Lasting impact of Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme

On International Women’s Day, we take a look at the RWC 2021 Coaching Internship Programme and some of its early successes.

It is almost four months since New Zealand dug deep to edge England and become the first host nation to win a women’s Rugby World Cup.

Records tumbled during six sensational weekends in Auckland and Whangārei and Rugby World Cup 2021 looks set to have a lasting impact on the women’s game.

That is as true off the pitch as it is on it, thanks to the success of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme.

Created as part of the 2017-25 Women in Rugby strategic plan, the programme was designed to support World Rugby in its aim to develop inspirational female leaders and hit its ambitious minimum target of 40 per cent of all coaches at RWC 2025 being women.

Coaching Internship Programme

Ten of the 12 nations that competed at RWC 2021, including eventual winners New Zealand, did so with a participant in the Coaching Internship Programme in their backroom team.

While in New Zealand, the coaching interns participated in online sessions and as the tournament progressed those whose teams had been eliminated were able to take part in a series of workshops and high-performance visits.

One of those visits was to the Blues’ high-performance centre in Auckland, where participants heard from Tom Coventry and Sir Graham Henry about what is required to become an elite coach.

“I think it’s very important that the interns understand everything that a coach has to do within being a high-performance coach. It’s not just about coaching on the field,” Women in High Performance Coaching Programme Lead, Carol Isherwood said.

“[Meeting] Tom Coventry and then Sir Graham Henry, that has really given them an insight into, one, what a coach needs to do and understand.

“But also, what makes a top-level coach and how you have to continue to learn and adapt and be a better coach in order to have that sustained performance at that high-performance level.”

Henry said: “Developing coaches, whether they be men or women, in any sport is essential. And I think in rugby at the moment there’s a big need, and probably a bigger need in the women’s game than the men’s game.”

It is hoped the Coaching Internship Programme will have a long-term impact on the number of female coaches in the game, and the early signs have certainly been positive in that regard.

Whitney Hansen became a permanent assistant coach with the Black Ferns prior to RWC 2021 and played a pivotal role in the hosts’ run to the title.

Hansen was again named forwards coach at Super Rugby Aupiki side Matatū this year, and has been applying the experience she gained during the team’s ongoing campaign.

Gaëlle Mignot followed a similar path to Hansen with bronze medallists France and has taken a further step, having been named joint-head coach alongside David Ortiz for the Women’s Six Nations 2023.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, it was announced that South African intern Laurian Johannes-Haupt had been appointed Springbok Women assistant coach for the team's tour of Europe later this month.

Lailanie Burnes and Claire Cruikshank have both earned new domestic coaching roles following their involvement with Fiji and Scotland respectively in New Zealand while Amy Turner was appointed Harlequins Women coach ahead of RWC 2021.

“The key thing for me has been the massive belief [the Coaching Internship Programme has given me],” Cruikshank said.

“The whole programme has been fantastic and eye-opening but also, I genuinely think it has been life-changing for me in terms of what I want to achieve, what I can achieve and what I will go on to achieve.

“So, I can’t thank World Rugby and Scottish Rugby enough for giving me the opportunity, it’s been brilliant.”

Burnes added: “To be involved around other like-minded coaches that are in the female space of the game, to learn from them in terms of their challenges that they face and also some of the learnings from them and the ideas and the processes that they had in place has just been such a great opportunity.”

Last updated: Mar 8, 2023, 10:13:46 AM
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