By JULIE ASH



Anna Richards jokes that giving up tennis for rugby was her greatest mistake.



If she was a tennis player, she would have money, for a start. "I wouldn't have to work. I wouldn't have to use my mum's old car. I'd even own my own bed," says the 39-year-old, who represented Southern Districts on the court as a teen.



She would also have superstar status. "I could've been the next Anna Kournikova. Now I'm just glamorous but have no money," she laughs.

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Instead of the $20 million Kournikova earns in celebrity endorsements each year, Richards scrapes by on a part-time job and cheap accommodation from her College Rifles club in order to dedicate herself to her sport.



"I own no assets at all," says the woman who has represented New Zealand more times at rugby than any other.



But despite not having the material wealth of many international sportspeople, including her male counterparts in the All Blacks, Richards wouldn't trade her 13-year career in the Black Ferns for anything.



Once she tried rugby there was no turning back. And being part of a world champion team is something she cherishes. "It's a lot of satisfaction, an awful lot of fun," she says.



A passionate advocate of women's rugby in New Zealand, Richards has watched the sport progress from being ignored by local administrators to enjoying a fair degree of popularity and recognition.



But there is still a long way to go.



"We need more money [at] grassroots [level] to get women moving through from secondary school to senior rugby."



She believes that if New Zealand doesn't make this investment, it will be left behind countries such as England, where experienced international players have played 70-80 games as opposed to her 28.



When Richards isn't playing rugby, she's helping children access literature through her job at the Alan Duff Charitable Foundation.



As role model programme co-ordinator for the foundation, she works 20-30 hours a week to organise more than 400 local celebrities a year to visit lower decile schools and encourage children to read.



The foundation gives each child at decile 1, 2 and 3 primary and immediate schools five free books a year of their choice.



Worthy work, so it's lucky Richards is not a famous tennis player overrun with million-dollar celebrity endorsements after all.



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