There aren’t many players that can boast the kind of record that Anna Richards has, and now she is giving back. Her four World Cups highlight a career that has spun the best part of two decades, and following a stint coaching the Hong Kong Sevens, she is back home with the Black Ferns and the development of their next generation of stars.
Richards has agreed to join Auckland Rugby, and in doing so, she has become the first women’s player development manager.
Speaking to Newsroom.nz, she said: “My mission is to help players become the players they can and should be. I always wanted to give back to rugby after I finished playing, and coaching is how I can do that.”
Richards will be working with the current Black Ferns crop of talented players, as well as, helping players currently on sevens contracts with New Zealand development. She will also play a vital role with the Auckland Storm.
“It’s great that New Zealand rugby has set up high-performance units around the unions and it’s good to see other women in the same role around the country,” she was quoted as saying.
The head of women’s rugby development, Cate Sexton, was overjoyed with Richards progression into her new role and thinks that having a player of such high-esteem within their ranks will be vital to their continued success.
Sexton was quick to point to the former Black Fern’s knowledge of the game, as well as the coaching experience that she brings with her.
“She has a massive influence in women’s rugby and it’s great for us all to have her back in New Zealand and in the high-performance space,” said Sexton. “You can’t bottle her playing experience, understanding of rugby and her involvement in other programmes.”
Richards was quickly alerted to the number of sports that schoolgirls are involved in and feared of the overload. She said: “We have so many talented schoolgirls, but it worries me how much work they’re doing.”
The fact that alerted the legend to this was the number of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 that are picking up serious knee injuries like anterior cruciate ligament ruptures.
“They think they have to do it all; otherwise they’ll miss out,” said Richards. “I think it’s my job to make sure that there’s a good team in place to support these girls. It’s about planning their lives a bit better and supporting them to be better people and better players.”
She has recently returned to New Zealand after a stint as head coach of the women’s Hong Kong Sevens team. Speaking of her experience, she said: “Hong Kong was an awesome learning experience from me, going from training twice a week to coaching full time.
“Coaching full time is tough, but it was rewarding to make progress in the time I was there.”
The progression into coaching for Richards has been a smooth one, and she was included within the New Zealand Rugby initiative called Ignite7, which was aimed with finding the next generation of sevens talent while she has also spent time coaching in Japan.
The sevens game is undoubtedly increasing in participation and interest, and Richards has welcomed the expansion and the fact that Black Ferns players are now given contracts.
“It was important that it happened. Not only for rugby but for sport as a whole,” she said. “It’s important that women’s sports are acknowledged and get more support. Off the back of the Black Ferns Sevens and the standard of the last rugby World Cup, there’s a groundswell of support for women’s rugby and women’s sport. But more is needed.
“Some big things are happening in women’s rugby, and it’s great to be home to be involved.”
Main photo: World Rugby