Anna Yakovleva had hoped to sign off from her playing career with a trip to the Olympic Games, but the Kazakhstan women's coach remains confident she can help create history this weekend.
Having captained her country to fourth at the Olympic Repechage tournament in Dublin five years ago, Yakovleva was part of the team that secured its place in Monaco through the Asia Rugby qualification tournament in November, 2019.
“Of course I wanted to try my hand at the repechage tournament again,” she told World Rugby, “but it doesn't always work out as we intend.”
Instead Yakovleva, 37, will attempt to mastermind Kazakhstan’s passage to Tokyo 2020 from the sidelines of the Olympic Repechage tournament in Monaco, which takes place this weekend.
Yakovleva and Kazakhstan came close to qualifying for the Olympics five years ago. At the repechage in Dublin, the team won each of their pool matches, and a quarter-final against Samoa, before losing their semi-final to Spain, who went on to book their place at Rio 2016.
This time around two women’s teams will qualify for next month’s Olympics from this weekend’s tournament in Monaco.
That means that if Kazakhstan were to navigate their pool and a knockout match this weekend then they would need just one more victory to book their ticket to Japan.
“We are confident that we will make every effort to make this happen,” Yakovleva added.
“For me personally, this is the dream of my whole life. It would become a definitive feature [of my career], the result of all my previous labours, efforts and goals.
“For our country, this would be a historic moment, we would be the first [team] to represent Kazakhstan at the Olympics in this sport!”
Adjusting to life as a coach
Yakovleva’s side have been drawn alongside Papua New Guinea, Jamaica and Tunisia in Pool B, with the top two from each group and two best third-placed teams advancing to the knockout stage.
Like their rivals, Kazakhstan’s preparations have been impacted by the pandemic. But, the squad was able to convene for two training camps, one of which was held in Poland, and compete in the second round of the national championship prior to departing for Europe.
The players and coaches have spent the last few days acclimatising to Monaco, and Yakovleva admits that “preparation for the tournament is almost over, there are [just] some small moments left to work on with the team”.
Heading into an international tournament as a coach rather than a player has been a new experience for Yakovleva.
One that she admits she is still adjusting to. “There is a huge difference [between playing and coaching], absolutely,” Yakovleva said.
“Different tasks are facing me every day and the work itself is so different.
“Having moved to the rank of a coach, I discovered many new tasks, emotions and sometimes even professions.”
But, as Kazakhstan prepare for their opening match against Jamaica on Saturday there is no one more qualified than Yakovleva to guide them towards their goal.