Meet the former Aviva Premiership star reveling in UAE success

Matt Jones - Editor 09:27 27/07/2016
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Richards in action against Abu Dhabi Harlequins next season.

The Englishman has crammed a lot onto his rugby CV. He started out at Northampton Saints, making 10 or so starts for the Aviva Premiership outfit as a youngster.

He also had stints at Ospreys and Coventry but something was missing – a stint abroad. He didn’t want to regret not playing overseas and, in the three years since he left the UK, that is no longer a fear he holds.

The 33-year-old even had a brush with playing for Super Rugby giants Western Force when he first landed in Australia in 2013.

“I was never in line to play for them at all. I wasn’t good enough to be honest. I was 30 so my time was past,” says the modest Richards, now 33 and a rugby teacher at Dubai’s Jumeirah College.

“They had the first team squad, an under-20 squad and a wider training squad, which included a mixture of development players, players too old for U-20’s or players playing well in Premiership (division below Super Rugby). If you don’t make the Super Rugby squad you play in the Premiership.”

Utility back Richards was a member of the Force’s wider training squad for two seasons, where he represented one of the team’s affiliate sides, Cottesloe, in the Western Australia Premier Grade.

There he finished as top try-scorer one season as Cottesloe reached the Grand Final twice, only to be beaten on both occasions by the University of Western Australia. Despite Richards claiming he was never in with a shout of a Super Rugby career, he did catch the eye of Force coaching staff during his time there.

“I was top try scorer at Cottesloe, then got invited to the training squad,” Richards said. “While there I broke a lot of the conditioning records in training, like speed over 10 metres and strength to weight ratio with bench press and pull-ups, so they put me up to train with the first team. I would keep the senior guys’ fitness up.

“Nick Cummings, the year I got there, broke into the Australia squad. James O’Connor was there the season before that.

“I had good hands and feet and good experience now but I think they just needed a player to plug a gap. Cottesloe was right on the beach, they had great fans.

“I was there for two seasons and it was good to do that. A lot of boys in the squad with me are now with Western Force.”

From England to Australia to the UAE. Not bad for a player who’d qualified as a teacher before heading Down Under because he realised a rugby playing career was not going to sustain him.

Yet, he wanted to dedicate a few more years to rugby. When he arrived in the Emirates less than a year ago he initially went training with Dubai Hurricanes. But through work, Exiles director of rugby Jacques Benade, who also holds a similar position at Dubai College, persuaded him to sign.

“I was originally going to sign for Hurricanes as the friend of a friend played there,” added Richards. “I trained there but had a random email from Jacques. We met up for a coffee and he said ‘come along to training’. I went and signed because of his training sessions, they were quality. It felt good. I could also see there was a calibre of player there too. They took a chance on me.”

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