When Rugby World Cup 2021 kicks off in Auckland next month, 10 of the 12 competing nations will have a participant in the Coaching Internship Programme in their backroom team.

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.

To that end, Inge Visser (Australia), Maria Gallo (Canada), Lailanie Burnes (Fiji), Michela Tondinelli (Italy), Aya Nakajima (Japan), Claire Cruikshank (Scotland), Laurian Johannes-Haupt (South Africa) and Kate Daley (USA) will all be embedded with their respective teams.

RWC 2021 Coaching Internship Programme alumni Whitney Hansen (New Zealand) and Gaëlle Mignot (France), meanwhile, have been promoted to full-time assistant coaches with their nations in the build-up to the delayed showpiece tournament.

Opening doors

Both Hansen and Mignot remain enrolled on the learning programme and will be invited to the sessions being run on the ground in October and November, as will Alana Thomas, who will be in New Zealand with Australia.

The coaching interns will take part in online sessions during the first half of RWC 2021, and those participants whose teams are knocked out of the tournament will stay on for a series of workshops and high-performance visits.

Fellow alumni Sophie Spence (Wales), Céline Allainmat (France) and Amy Turner (England) will also have access to the online sessions and remain part of the network.

“I’m really pleased with how the programme has gone,” World Rugby consultant Carol Isherwood, who is leading the RWC 2021 Coaching Internship Programme, said.

“The programme helps build the coaches’ confidence and competence, but the big change is really raising their visibility and credibility with the players, the other coaches and performance teams. Particularly the people who make decisions within unions.

“The fact that Whitney has been able to prove herself by being with that squad and Amy showing what she can do and what she’s learned, has led to them getting these top roles. Which is exactly what the programme was meant to do.

“It’s not just about fixing the women’s [pathways], it’s about systems and structures and opening the doors so people are aware how good these coaches are and how much value they can add to existing coaching teams.”

RWC 2021 focus

Black Ferns assistant coach Hansen was promoted to that role earlier this year, and she detailed her vision for the team when the hosts’ squad was announced last week.

“We wanted fit, fast, explosive, powerful athletes who were pretty good at rugby,” Hansen said.

“That sounds like a silly thing to say but it's not enough to just be able to scrummage anymore.

“Work rate was massive and character was really important. When you go away for eight or nine weeks together sometimes the right person is the right person.”

Hansen, who is the daughter of men’s Rugby World Cup-winning coach Steve Hansen, has been working closely with her dad’s old All Blacks colleague Wayne Smith.

According to Hansen, Smith has advocated “controlling the controllables” and one area she has looked to focus on ahead of RWC 2021 is the Black Ferns’ set-piece.

“It is about getting those combinations right come lineout time and continually work on our scrum,” she said.

“There’s not a lot of people who we can play against that are going to replicate what we might face when we come up against those Northern Hemisphere teams like England and France, so we’ll be finding ways to challenge the girls.

“We will look to do that by getting in some competition with the likes of Japan in the lead-up but also getting in some scenario stuff with some age group men’s teams.”

Gaining insight

RWC Coaching Internship Programme alumni Amy Turner became the latest participant to secure a senior coaching job when she was appointed Harlequins Women head coach in July.

Turner had combined her place on the programme with her role as England women U20 coach and previously spoke about how much she learned from being part of Simon Middleton’s Red Roses set-up.

“It has been really good to observe and be privy to some conversations that are necessary and needed within a high-performance environment,” she told World Rugby in February.

“Whether that be staff-oriented logistics or recognising the importance of language within the staff group that translates into the player group.

“Being able to observe that has definitely given me a really good, meaningful insight into what it means to be high performance and how to run a high-performance environment.”