Rickards up for life's challenges

SOUTHERN MAN: Willie Rickards feels most happy at his rugby club.
SOUTHERN MAN: Willie Rickards feels most happy at his rugby club.

Willie Rickards doesn't have to worry about getting sand in the wrong places at his favourite spot in Taranaki.

In fact, for some, even most, it's hard to figure out why the Southern Rugby Club would be a favourite spot.

Not that Rickards cares. He is unashamedly proud to call the club on the second floor of the Hub tops, as he delightfully recalls the support he has had from the members who frequent it.

Maybe it's also not surprising, given rugby has dominated a fair part of his 29 years which has included national rep sides, as well as Ranfurly Shield success and a brief stint with the Highlanders and as Taranaki captain.

Rickards made 2013 like a chapter out of a Boy's Own annual, coaching Taranaki to their first national sevens title for decades in Queenstown before making history with Southern, leading them to their first senior A title since the club's inception in 1995.

"I've always felt I've had a real leadership role with Southern, within the team and the club, so jumping into the head coaching role, without [readers] taking this the wrong way, I always felt confident about my abilities to run both those programmes," he said.

"I know I'm young and everything else, but I never doubted myself."

Although young, Rickards is not your typical 20-something. That is strikingly obvious the more you talk to him.

He puts his maturity down to several things, including his upbringing and the challenges he has already dealt with in life.

"I have experienced a lot of things a lot of other people haven't. Whether that's been [fiancee] Anna [Ruakere] having a stroke or the issues my father has had, my parents splitting up when I was at a young age and growing up in south Auckland, I've had to deal with a lot when I was a young kid.

"What that has taught me is when things get tough, as they do in coaching, I'm not one to go sit in the corner and ball my eyes out about it. I'm pretty conditioned and have the strategies to deal with those sorts of things."

His father, former Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards, has not been someone Willie has talked a lot about, publicly at least.

"What I voice about that is my family is everything to me. I love my father with every bit of my body, so it's certainly a topic I don't really like to discuss and it's something I'm quite private about."

Given the challenges he has faced, there would have been few in Taranaki who would have begrudge Rickards the success he enjoyed in 2013.

Taranaki Daily News