Rugby ace Anna Richards on Black Ferns' career: 'It was for love, not money'

Former Black Ferns' player Anna Richards didn’t blow the first payout – all $5 of it – she received from the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

Instead, she lodged it in her bank account. And there it has stayed.

Richards, one of New Zealand’s greatest female rugby players, recalls the momentous moment she was told she would be compensated for sacrificing time to attend a training camp.

Then the cash rolled in.

“The first time I got paid by the NZRFU (as NZ Rugby was previously known) was, I think, in ‘92 or ‘93, at a regional camp, and I was paid $5 a day for a three-day camp,’’ Richards recalled.

“I actually banked that money, and I think it is still there. That is actually a true story.’’

The amount was small, yet the payout represented a significant step forward for the women’s game in New Zealand and in the seasons ahead the allowances distributed to female representative players increased.

But by time NZ Rugby finally committed to contracting its Black Ferns 15s and NZ sevens players, Richards, who also captained the national sevens and touch teams, had long retired.

The former halfback and first five-eighth has no regrets about missing out on the baubles that are now on offer to those players on active duty.

Now 56, Richards played 49-tests and was later inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

Although she never received significant payments over or under-the-table during a career that began in 1990 and ended in 2010, she says she took immense satisfaction from representing her country in a sport she loved.

Professional contracts are now available to women, albeit at a more modest rate than those to their male counterparts; a reflection of the men participating in competitions that contribute to the bulk of NZ Rugby’s income from broadcasters and commercial partners.

Does she wish she could have received a regular pay cheque? “You always get asked that question. I am pretty happy to have played when I did. I would still love to be playing, you always want to be involved.’’

Although rugby didn’t officially turn professional until late 1995, male players could receive under-the-table payments by playing in Italy, France and South Africa.

But for Richards, who also played offshore, and her female counterparts the concept of getting paid to play was the stuff of fantasy.

Although conditions and allowances improved, NZ Rugby moved at a glacial pace when recognising the value of female members of its congregation.