NZ legend excited by Hong Kong challenge
The national jersey may be a different colour, but the steely commitment is just the same. Anna Richards is relishing her new role as Hong Kong Elite Women’s Sevens coach and this weekend brings a first chance to see her new charges in action at the Asian Women’s Sevens Series finale in Pune, India.
The New Zealander is one of the most respected names in women’s rugby, having enjoyed a hugely successful playing career spanning more than two decades, including 20 years in the Black Ferns’ jersey from 1990 to 2010.
“I am looking forward to coaching women’s rugby full-time and working with full-time athletes as well,” admitted Richards, who officially starts her new role in December and will be based full-time at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI).
“The facilities and the resources being provided by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and the Hong Kong Sports Institute are significant which will be a great support.”
These facilities and resources have come about after Rugby Sevens became the first team sport to be named as an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, enabling several players to be granted elite athlete status to qualify for funding and to use the world-class facilities. It also allowed for some key appointment, including that of Richards.
“This is obviously a great boost for the women’s game. Being included in the Olympics is allowing more funding to become available for smaller counties worldwide and also enabling full-time staff and players to be recruited,” she added.
It will take time for Hong Kong’s women to reap the rewards of such support but Richards will use this weekend in India to assess the players in her quest to see improvement over the next year.
“It is too early for me to assess really, as the women are only a few months into their full-time programme, but I am hoping to see significant improvement over the next 12 months.
“This weekend I will be looking especially at how the girls perform as a team and how they react to game pressure. I will also be assessing the core skill level of individuals.”
With four Women’s Rugby World Cup titles to her name from 1998 to 2010 – the latter just a few months before her 46th birthday – Richards also had a keen eye on last week’s pool draw for the 2014 tournament in France.
“I’m already missing not being involved in the Women’s Rugby World Cup, especially with New Zealand being drawn with Ireland (in Pool B). I have never played against Ireland so ruing the missed opportunity there,” the former fly-half admitted.
“To me, Pool C (Australia, France, South Africa and Wales) looks like the toughest overall. One thing I would really like to see is 16 teams at the tournament, and a quarter-finals stage after the pools.”