Alphonsi has no regrets about choosing rugby
As the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2015 continues, England Women’s star and ER 2015 Ambassador Maggie Alphonsi talks to us about what first attracted her to the sport, her Rugby World Cup memories, and why Canada will be her team to watch at the tournament.
Getting into rugby
Enticed by rugby’s unique values, Alphonsi gave up a promising career in athletics to focus on the sport she was first introduced to by her physical education teacher at Salisbury Secondary School in north London.
“I really enjoyed athletics but it didn’t quite do as much for me as rugby did. My PE teacher, who was a women’s rugby player at the time, encouraged me to get into the sport when I was 14 and I’ve not looked back since.
“Rugby gives you a really close team environment where you feel like you are competing with people towards a common goal, as opposed to on your own, which can sometimes be quite a challenge. I also think that what the sport offers in terms of access for everyone is unbeatable; you can be any shape or size and still find a position that’s right for you on a rugby field.”
Alphonsi’s decision to take up rugby launched a stellar career that has seen her amass 63 caps for England and win countless honours for her performances on the field, including the 2006 IRB International Women’s Personality of the Year award.
The flanker’s relentless work-rate has also earned her the nickname ‘Maggie the Machine’. “I was playing for England at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2006 in Canada. A commentator in one of the matches described me as a machine because of my style of play, and the name just stuck. It’s a nice term because I think it reflects my game – I don’t stop and just keep on going. I do remember trying to change the name once, but I think this one’s here to stay.”
While Women’s Rugby World Cup finals have not given Alphonsi her happiest moments after twice suffering heartbreak against New Zealand, she does have some unforgettable memories of RWC finals.
“My stand out RWC moments would have to be Jonny Wilkinson’s last-minute drop goal in the RWC 2003 Final, and also the RWC 2011 Final between New Zealand and France.
“It was so exciting watching the England versus Australia match at RWC 2003, and then seeing the trophy parade through London when the guys came home. It felt like rugby was really connecting with the whole country and you could see people of all ages and backgrounds getting involved in the celebrations.
“Then there was the RWC 2011 Final which was so much closer than anyone expected with just one point separating the two teams. The haka at the beginning of that match got an amazing response from the French, it was one of those games that you couldn’t stop watching from start to finish.”
Team to watch
Fast forward to RWC 2015 and what does Alphonsi predict?
“I obviously want England to win and will be backing them all the way, but my surprise package for the tournament would have to be Canada. I’ll be intrigued to see how they get on at RWC 2015 as they have improved so much in the last couple of years and are now more than capable of causing a few upsets in Pool D.
“They put in some good performances at RWC 2011 and now have much of their squad playing at top clubs in Europe. They were really impressive in the Americas 1 qualifier against the USA and, in my opinion, have become stronger and more powerful since the last tournament. There are also a lot of good rugby programmes going on in North America right now and the national teams can only benefit from this.”
Alphonsi has described the role of ER 2015 Ambassador as a “massive honour” and is clearly excited about the tournament coming to England.
“To be part of such a big event in your own country is something I’m very passionate about. England is going to turn into a rugby nation in the build-up to the tournament and I’m very fortunate to be in this position. Together with Jonny (Wilkinson), Lawrence (Dallaglio) and Will (Greenwood) we’re going to do our best to promote RWC 2015 and express just what it will bring to our nation.”