Irene Gardner believes the Gallagher High Performance Academy can help provide female players with a future in the game after they’ve hung up their boots.

On Tuesday, Gardner was unveiled as one of 10 female coaches to be accepted into the Gallagher High Performance Academy in 2024, as the programme is expanded into sevens.

The former USA sevens player, who has built a successful coaching career in her homeland, will take the next step on her journey as an intern in the Women’s Eagles Sevens set-up, working under former team-mate Emilie Bydwell during HSBC SVNS 2024.

Gardner was part of the USA coaching group for the most recent two tournaments on the series, in Vancouver and Los Angeles as the team won a bronze medal on home soil.

Following last weekend’s tournament, Gardner took part in a coaching masterclass at Dignity Health Sports Park that included a series of coaching sessions in which they put into practice lessons they had learned during the previous fortnight.

“I'm very honoured to be included in the Gallagher High Performance Academy,” she said. “To be able to be exposed to a high-performance environment, you really see all the detail that goes into everything that operates a team and a programme and a long-term vision.”

Gallagher High Performance Academy: Explainer

Gardner is currently USA Rugby’s women’s pathway head coach and is also assistant coach for both men’s and women’s rugby at Stanford University, head coach of the Rocky Mountain Experts Premier Sevens side and founder of the Legends Rugby Academy.

As a player, Gardner enjoyed a steep rise to represent her country on the World Series and at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 despite only taking up the game in her second year of university.

She is well placed, therefore, to talk about the shortage of opportunities that have traditionally been available to female coaches. She is confident, though, that the Gallagher High Performance Academy can help change that.

“[The programme] is important because there's not enough opportunity currently in the women's game for females in these roles,” Gardner said.

“As we see the development and more girls and women getting involved in the game, we need more and more people that look like them in these roles, to give them a vision of what they could do beyond their playing years, regardless of what level they end up playing.

“Because these are the future leaders within this sport.

“There are more and more athletes coming out of this game that recognise the opportunities to give back to the game. And so, whether that's on the coaching front, the administrative front, the referees, the analysis end, we need more women in the roles, and especially at the high-performance level.”

Gardner enjoyed being immersed with the USA squad for the tournaments in Vancouver and LA and is hoping to use her time in the High Performance Academy to make her a better coach.

“I'm really looking to learn about all of the detail that goes into creating the team out on the pitch, because obviously it's not just the training environment,” Gardner said.

“It's not just the detail around the competition weekend, but it's a longer vision of patience and resilience and detail that goes into creating a platform on which these players and women can thrive in the longer-term picture over the course of a cycle.”

On her goals for the future, Gardner added: “I want to continue to be involved in the women's game.

“I think it is something that has given a lot to me as a person and a player, and I want to continue to see it grow and at an exponential rate, so that more girls and women have opportunities.

“For me, I want to continue coaching at the collegiate level and I would love to really be able to continue to grow the women's sevens pathway with the USA and create more sevens specific opportunities for women and girls in America.”