Handover Complete As Helen Takes Charge

Helen Richardson, far right, alongside outgoing Team Manager Janette Shaw during the anthems at England Women v Italy Women
Re-hydration starts immediately after the final whistle
Lost in thought, no longer the assistant. Helen pondering what lies ahead as tomorrow she will be the Team Manager
Helen with Army Referee, Nikki O’Donnell. Two Service women with World Cup ambitions in 2017

When the final whistle blew at the Stoop on Sunday, England Women had put behind them the disappointment of their defeat to Wales the week before.  The victory over Italy allowed them to say farewell to their long serving Team Manager, Janette Shaw, with a win.  It also meant that as Sunday’s celebrations drew to a close the Team Manager baton was finally handed over to the Royal Navy’s Helen Richardson.  Helen’s first game in charge will be over in Ireland where England will face a team looking to avenge their 40-7 semi-final defeat in the 2014 World Cup.  For England, and Helen, it will be another step forward as the World Champions look to re-build and retain their title in 2017.

Having stepped down as Team Manager of the Combined Services side earlier in January, Helen was on the touchline at both of England’s opening Six Nations game as part of her handover from Janette.  The game against Wales was notable as England’s first since their famous win in the Paris World Cup final last year.  Since then the England team had endured significant change with their head coach, Gary Street, stepping down, a number of players moving on to professional contracts and Helen being announced as the new team manager.

The amount of change was probably to be expected as so much of sport is now governed by the four-year world cup cycle.  However to add to Helen’s work load her four-year cycle has been compressed to three.  With the on-going remarkable growth of the Women’s game World Rugby announced last November that the next Women’s World Cup would be 2017 and not 2018.  This would ensure that the competition would not clash with the Olympics (Rio 2016) or the Sevens World Cup (2018).  So with the usual four-year preparation cycle crammed in to three and the venue for the finals not yet known it is going to be a baptism of fire for Helen Richardson in her new role.

However Helen does not come to the role without experience of the elite end of the Women’s game.  In 2010, when the Women’s world cup was hosted by the RFU, Helen was appointed as the liaison manager to the Scottish team.  Her time as one of the PTI staff at HMNB Clyde obviously helping within any cultural differences!  Success in this role spring boarded her in to the manager’s job for London & South East’s Women’s Senior Academy, one of England’s four prestigious academies as part of their elite rugby pathway.  During her time with the academy she helped prepare a number of the young players who forced themselves in to the winning England World Cup team and who will, quite likely, become the established foundation for the 2017 campaign.

Helen Richardson is not the only Service women with hopes to be at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.  Nikki O’Donnell, the Army Rugby Union referee, was the Assistant Referee at the Stoop last Sunday whilst on the playing front the Royal Air Force’s Sian Williams, continues to be impressive at blindside flanker for Wales as does the Army’s Gemma Rowland at inside centre in the Welsh team.

Article by G Ashton Jones
Images Alligin Photography / © John Walton