Anna Richards: Finals are a great feeling

(IRB.COM) Saturday 4 September 2010
 
 Anna Richards: Finals are a great feeling
Anna Richards scores a try against France - Photo: rugbymatters.net

Anna Richards is no stranger to Women's Rugby World Cup finals, the New Zealand fly half will after all line up for her fourth successive title decider at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday with the familiar foe of England standing between the Black Ferns and the cup.

The most capped Black Fern of all time insists that the feeling of reaching a final hasn't changed since her first in 1998, although given she was a late call up as an injury replacement for Amiria Rule there is something a little special about number four.

"No, of course it doesn't [get any better]. It's a great feeling knowing you are in a World Cup final. There's a huge challenge ahead of us so it's always really exciting," explained Richards, a try scorer in the 45-7 semi final win over France.

"We were pretty happy with our game against France. We had a dominant first half and I think we pretty much had it by half time, so it was a good feeling to know we could concentrate on the next game when it's finished.

"This World Cup, we've had a policy to never look beyond the next game we're playing. We've had a lot of people saying to us 'you're going to meet England in the final'. I don't think it was a foregone conclusion by any means.

Enjoying the experience

"It was nice to get the semi final out of the way and know who we are facing.

"People do presume [it's a given we'll progress] but I think with the standard of rugby that is being played at this tournament, it's something that you really shouldn't presume.

"You look at the All Blacks and people assumed that they were going to make the last World Cup final and you see what's happened to them the last couple of times. I think we've learned from them not to presume and just make sure it happens.

"I've got to say I've been appreciating coming here maybe a lot more than I did previously in the other World Cups, and I've made sure that I've enjoyed the whole experience and been really appreciative of the coaches and the girls I have been playing with and make the most of it."

Richards has played in every World Cup that the Black Ferns have, her first in 1991 coming a year after her test debut and making her the only player in the 2010 squad to have experienced a defeat, New Zealand having won 18 matches in a row since that semi final loss to the Women's Eagles.

New Zealand didn't play in the 1994 tournament in Scotland, but returned as a dominant force four years later in Amsterdam, scoring 344 points and conceding just 32 points as they avenged that loss with a 44-12 defeat of USA in the final.

World Cup memories

The last two finals have both been against England, each of them tight affairs with the Black Ferns coming out on top 19-9 in Barcelona in 2001 - thanks to tries from Monique Hirovanaa and Cheryl Waaka - and then 25-17 four years later in Canada with Amiria Rule's late try the decisive score.

Having got her hands on the coveted Women's Rugby World Cup trophy on three occasions, Richards has plenty of memories springing to mind from her displays in the distinctive black jersey.

"1998 was cool because we missed the 1994 World Cup, it was so nice to be back on the world stage and to be able to show what we are capable of and I think at that stage people didn't know how good we could be," admitted Richards.

"I think I really enjoyed the 1998 World Cup because my sister (Fiona) was in the team as well so that was very, very cool. 2002 was a little bit different, a lot more pressure, especially because we went into that tournament having lost to England [the year before].

"2006 at Edmonton, I really enjoyed that tournament. Actually, it was cool, our coach gave us carte blanche to do whatever we wanted and just throw the ball around, that was nice.

"The best thing I think about every year you for the Black Ferns is the team are a little bit different, different personnel, new coaches and I think that's a great change up in ways and means to do things."

VIDEO: WRWC 2010 FINAL PREVIEW



England, again stand in New Zealand and Richards' way of a fourth successive world crown, and the veteran fly half knows they will be formidable opponents, particularly playing on home before an expected crowd of over 10,000 at The Stoop.

"They're a worthy opponent and I think what they have done for Women's Rugby and they have been improving and they're a great challenge," admitted Richards, who will start her fourth match of the tournament in an unchanged Black Ferns starting line up.

"I think they bring the best out in us and I hope we bring the best out in them and hopefully it's going to be a very, very good final. I think it will definitely be a great final.

"It's going to be about ball possession. You've got to be tough against the English because they are fit and strong and what we need to do is be ball tough and produce some quality ball for our backline."

A talented backline featuring Kelly Brazier and Huriana Manuel outside her and a dangerous back three of Renee Wickliffe, IRB Women's Personality of the Year 2010 nominee Carla Hohepa and full back Victoria Grant which Richards loves playing in.

"They are very nice to have outside me, I'll tell you that much! I think my challenge is to keep them all involved and to pick the right moves for the right personnel because they've all got different attributes.

WRWC 2014?

"They make me look good and I'm happy to be giving them the ball at any time of the day!"

Richards is a few months shy of her 46th birthday, but has rolled back the years with her rugby brain making up for an yard of pace lost, citing her sheer love of the game as the secret behind why she continues to put her body on the line for the Black Ferns.

"I think it's the enjoyment factor and I think playing on a team like the Black Ferns, it's a huge challenge just to make it and then you're sitting here playing with people who are so exciting to play with, and they challenge you.

"It's so enjoyable and I think that's why I've stayed on for so long because it's so much fun to play the type of rugby we can play and when we get it right, it's hard not to smile. If you're not enjoying playing, it's hard to produce what you are capable of."

The question remains then, will we see Anna Richards grace another World Cup?

"Crikey, who knows what capacity I'll be back in ... just watch this space!"