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Final Coaches Selected To Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme

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World Rugby has announced the final coaches to be selected to the ground-breaking Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme ahead of the showcase women’s 15s event in New Zealand from 8 October to 12 November 2022. 

Now that the final qualified teams have been confirmed, Lailanie Burnes (Fiji), Michela Tondinelli (Italy), Aya Nakajima (Japan) and Claire Cruikshank (Scotland), will join the programme launched by World Rugby in September 2020. 

All four have previously experienced Rugby World Cup as players, but will now join their respective national coaching set-ups where they will be exposed to the highest level of coaching in a high-performance environment in the women’s 15s game. 

To date, Whitney Hansen (New Zealand), Inge Visser (Australia), Maria Gallo (Canada), Amy Turner (England), Laurian Johannes-Haupt (South Africa), Kate Daley (USA), Sophie Spence (Wales) and Celine Allaimat and Gaelle Mignot (both France) have developed their leadership skills through the programme. 

In line with the ‘developing inspirational leadership’ strand of the 2017-25 Women in Rugby strategic plan, World Rugby is committed to supporting the development of female coaches in the sport and has set an ambitious target of a minimum of 40 per cent of all coaches at Rugby World Cup 2025 to be women.  

The latest Rugby World Cup 2021 Coach Interns: 

Lailanie Burnes: Trailblazer Burnes founded the first-ever women’s rugby club in Fiji, and many of its players can be found in the Fijiana squad.

As the team’s former captain, Burnes played an active part in securing Fijiana qualification for their first-ever Rugby World Cup but now she has chosen to influence the team from the sidelines after taking the decision to hang up her boots. 

Michela Tondinelli: Rugby World Cup 2021 will be Tondinelli’s fourth Rugby World Cup, with the previous three having come in 1991, 1998 and 2002 as a player for Italy.   

Aya Nakajima: Rio 2016 Olympian Nakajima appeared at Rugby World Cup 2017 the following year playing in the second-row and continues to play at club level while furthering her coaching career.  

Claire Cruikshank: A knee injury sustained at Rugby World Cup 2006 restricted Cruickshank’s international career to five Scotland caps.

During rehab, Cruikshank tried her hand at coaching for the first time, helping the junior teams at her club, Murrayfield Wanderers, and hasn’t looked back since, gaining international experience with the Sweden women’s national team. 

World Rugby Director of Women’s Rugby, Sally Horrox said: “I’d like to congratulate all the coaches selected to participate in the Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme.  

“One of World Rugby’s strategic priorities for the women’s game is to increase the number of women in leadership positions across the sport through meaningful opportunities, so it has been extremely encouraging to see such a strong uptake of this programme across all participating unions.  

“We’ve already seen some brilliant results since the programme launched in 2020, including Whitney Hansen’s recent promotion to assistant coach of the Black Ferns, which we hope sends out a hugely positive message to the latest group of coaching interns and the wider rugby community.” 

World Rugby Women’s Advisory Committee Chair Serge Simon added: “We are delighted to be able to confirm the final four coaches selected to take part in World Rugby’s innovative Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme. This project plays a significant role in accelerating the number of high-performance female coaches across the game, and the fact that it is already paying dividends proves its effectiveness. We wish all of the coaches the very best of luck and look forward to following their progress throughout the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2021.”  

The Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme is funded as part of the International Olympic Committee’s international development grant awarded to World Rugby. 

The programme is an outcome from the comprehensive Women’s High-Performance Coaching review, with the report’s findings highlighting a significant lack of female representation at high-performance coaching level.  

Rugby World Cup 2021 will take place in New Zealand from 8 October to 12 November 2022 and will see 12 of the world’s top women’s 15s teams come together for a global celebration of women’s rugby.

Fans can purchase team and venue specific ticketing packs here, with general admission tickets set to go on sale 30th June.