AUCKLAND - Powerhouses England, France and New Zealand will "embrace" the record 40,000 crowd set to watch the opening day of the women's Rugby World Cup at Eden Park on Saturday.
The ninth edition of the tournament is shaping up as comfortably the biggest, with Auckland's famed rugby venue set to be at its temporary capacity for a triple-header of matches.
Organisers on Friday morning said there were about 1,000 tickets still unsold for the three matches involving the three tournament favourites.
The opening game pits France against South Africa before Six Nations champions England face Fiji. The last game of the day sees the hosts and defending champions New Zealand play Australia.
New Zealand scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge, a two-time World Cup winner, said she has experienced nothing like the atmosphere that awaits.
"I'm going to embrace that and let the emotions flow," Cocksedge said.
"At the same time, we've got a job to do, and that's play good footy."
The 62-Test veteran said the crowd numbers and projected broadcast viewing figures reflected the steep growth in women's rugby.
"The girls have been talking, walking down the streets, and people have been saying 'there's the Black Ferns'. That's what's creating a real excitement within the group."
England captain Sarah Hunter said her fifth World Cup felt like a step up from the others.
"The grandeur of it, going to Eden Park for the captains' opening shoot, we haven't even spoken about those (crowd) numbers," Hunter said.
"The investment into the women's game over the past couple of years have been huge, we are on a different level. The microscope is on women's rugby, I genuinely think this will be the biggest and best World Cup that ever has been."
If the "sold out" sign goes up, just over 40,000 will watch the first of 26 tournament matches involving 12 teams, with Eden Park's capacity having been reduced by about 5,000 to cater for opening ceremony entertainment.
The previous biggest crowd for a women's rugby Test was 20,000 at the 2014 World Cup final in Paris.
It maintains an explosive growth in interest in women's global sports tournaments.
This year, record footballing crowds watched the women's UEFA Champions League final in Barcelona (91,553) and the women's Euro final at Wembley (87,192).
More than 86,000 were at Melbourne Cricket Ground for the women's World T20 final two years ago.