Matthew Richards, Director of Rugby at Jumeirah College, discusses playing international rugby and how that experience makes him a better teacher.
When Jumeirah College (JC) needed a PE teacher and Director of Rugby, they couldn’t have asked for a better candidate than Matthew Richards. The 36-year old Englishman played professional rugby between the ages of 17 and 24 before taking a few years to teach while playing part-time rugby in Wales. He then moved to Australia for two years to play rugby full time and moved to the UAE four years ago.
He played top-division club rugby with the Dubai Exiles for two years and then signed with the divisional rival Jebel Ali Dragons. At the end of his first year with the Dragons, and his third year playing rugby in Dubai, he became eligible to play for the UAE.
Matthew was included in head coach Apollo Perelini’s initial 40-man training squad and then in the 25-man travelling squad for the Asia Rugby Championships in May. ”That’s when our training really ramped up,“ said Matthew. ”We were training three or four times a week for a month in the build-up to the tournament. It was the end of the season, so we also had weekend training camps.“
Given he is not longer playing professional rugby where his routine would have a regimented structure, from his workouts, to his diet, to what he wears, Matthew has to balance his responsibilities as a teacher with the demands of his training. ”People are working and sometimes they can’t train. Sometimes your best player can’t play for you on weekends. As a PE teacher I can’t play certain games when the school has tournaments,“ he said.
Matthew had concerns about asking for the time off required to play in tournaments but insists the school couldn’t have been more supportive. As a sports teacher he was achieving international sports honours and could share with his students what he’d learned. He added that it keeps his teaching fresh and he is not doing the same drills he did five years ago. ”I’m being exposed to all these top coaches and I’m playing against other teams, where we get to see what they do as well. We see how they train, and we can take the bits we like and replace what may be a bit dated,“ he said.
At the end of 2018 the UAE qualified for the top league of the 2019 Dubai Rugby Sevens, where they will play against Asian powerhouses Japan and Hong Kong. In September and October, the team will then take part in a three-tournament series. If they make it to the top four of that series, they stand a chance for Olympic qualification by going into a playoff system.