EXCLUSIVE: Maggie Alphonsi - Red Roses Legend Excited for 2025 Rugby World Cup Legacy After Milestone Launch Event - Ruck

EXCLUSIVE: Maggie Alphonsi – Red Roses Legend Excited for 2025 Rugby World Cup Legacy After Milestone Launch Event

One of the all-time great pioneers for women’s rugby, Maggie Alphonsi attended a milestone event today, to mark 500 days until the start of the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup. Joined by a host of sportswomen and leading industry names, Alphonsi was delighted to witness the launch of ‘Impact ’25’ at the home of North Bristol RFC.

The main initiative of Impact ’25, is to use the upcoming Rugby World Cup as an opportunity to create a legacy, which will continue to grow women’s rugby beyond next year’s home hosted tournament. The collaborative effort sees the RFU work with the UK Government, Sport England and UK Sport, to deliver significant funds (£12.13m so far) to increase rugby opportunities for women and girls across the United Kingdom.

Maggie Alphonsi during the European Champions Cup Match between Exeter Chiefs and Lyon at Sandy Park on 3 April 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/ppauk

Alphonsi’s excitement radiated from the West Country, as the former back-row expressed the importance of today’s event in Bristol. Speaking in an exclusive interview with RUCK, Alphonsi discussed her enjoyment of the day as she participated in some training sessions with the next generation of women’s rugby players.

“Today’s been absolutely brilliant to be fair. By that I mean, they’ve been here at North Bristol rugby, been able to participate and join the session with the young lady players who are based here at the club, but then to also be part of a significant announcement. 500 days to go before Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025. It’s been a really special day, to be able to celebrate the fact that there’s this new big investment into the women and girls game, and ensuring that we’ve got the legacy post Rugby World Cup is really important.

Maggie Alphonsi (Back Row, Third Right) at the Impact ’25 launch event

“Especially when you’re here in North Bristol rugby club, you can see how this club has had great investment and how it’s benefited, the young girls that play here. Today’s been all about celebrating and talking about it, and how to ensure that we continue to grow our game for the good.”

With more than £12 million already invested into women’s rugby from the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Alphonsi is ambitious for the contributions to have a significant impact upon the development of the sport within the grass roots game. A key focal point for the significant investment is making rugby clubs more accessible for women, with Alphonsi laying out the roadmap for the what she hopes will be a lasting legacy.

Impact 25 event at North Bristol RFC – Mandatory by-line: Robbie Stephenson/JMP – 09/04/2024 – RUGBY – North Bristol RFC – Impact 25 Celebration

“I think what I’d love to see is actually this investment be used in some of the smaller things that we don’t really appreciate. So investment into some of the clubhouses to ensure that (they are) women and girl friendly. So you’ve got more changing rooms, toilet facilities, just bases to ensure, that if we hopefully get an influx of more girls who wants to pick up the sport post 2025, that there’s venues and facilities that can provide for them.

“I think that’ll be one big thing for where our investment will want to go. But just ensuring that we’ve got just a supportive game that enables women and girls to thrive. Because most importantly, we’ve got this big goal that we want to get over 100,000 women and girls into rugby by 2027. And actually the best way to do that is to ensure that we offer these variety of opportunities in our game, make sure it’s appealing to those individuals, so that they can look at the sport and ‘I can play it yes, it’s a sport for me’ and feel welcomed in that environment.

BT Sport presenters, Maggie Alphonsi, Jasmine Joyce and Sarra Elgan Easterby interview Kate Zackary, co-captain of Exeter Chiefs Women after the Allianz Premier 15s semi-final match between Exeter Chiefs Women and Bristol Bears Women at Sandy Park on 22 May 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK.

“It’s also important to recognise with the investment, it’s not just about playing, participation in the sport, it’s is also about representation. So getting women and girls involved in as coaches or officials or leaders within the game. So having a variety of role models in different roles within the sport, so that young girls can potentially see them and go ‘I can do that if I don’t play, at least I’m involved in the sport somewhere, and I have a place and a role.”

On the topic of role models, Alphonsi was amongst a quartet of inspirational sportswomen that attended the event in Bristol today. The 2014 Rugby World Cup winner was joined by former England Lioness footballer Fara Williams as well as the Bristol Bears duo of Amber Reed and Sarah Bern. Alphonsi was delighted to see the young player’s eyes light up, as the sporting stars entered the clubhouse this morning. The former back-row expressed how important such role models are to the players of tomorrow, and discussed how she never had the opportunity to meet her heroes like the youth do today.

Sarah Bern of England Red Roses on the break during the international friendly match between England Red Roses and Canada women at Sandy Park, Exeter on 23rd Sept 2023. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“it’s really nice to see the girls who are here, see them and go ‘Oh, I could one day represent my country, be that England or Wales or whatever it may be. But you know, to see those role models and I remember when I was growing up, I didn’t necessarily have role models who were I guess touchable or in your presence.

“So they’re really lucky to have had that, so they were well received and it’s good to have ambassadors like that. Help share this story and help share this massive milestone in the women and girls game.”

The future women’s rugby players also have a significant opportunity that eclipsed Alphonsi’s playing days, with the first ever Women’s British and Irish Lions Tour confirmed to take place in New Zealand in 2027. Announced in January after a feasibility review, female rugby players will don the iconic red jersey for the first time, with a trio of fixtures lined up against the Black Ferns coming in over the horizon.

Nolli Waterman, Jason Leonard and Maggie Alphonsi at the 2027 Women’s Lions Tour LaunchImage Credit: Jason Leonard

A decorated member of the Red Roses, Alphonsi hung up her boots following the 2014 Rugby World Cup triumph, so never had the opportunity to play for the world famous touring side. A mother to a son and daughter, the former Saracen expressed her delight in how both her children could one day become British and Irish Lions.

“I’m really excited by it. It’s crazy, to also think that when I was playing, that was never an option. Now, I’ve got one daughter and one son and I can now say to to them when they get older, ‘If you want to win, you can both play for the Lions. You can both get the chance to wear that red jersey’, which is so iconic and the history it embodies.

“I’m so pleased by it, very excited when it comes down to it. And obviously, the first Lions tour is going to be Lions vs. New Zealand, which is, again, the powerhouses of women’s rugby at the present moment. So a great way to kick it off.”

Alana Bremner of New Zealand Women goes over for a try and celebrates during the autumn international match between England Women and New Zealand Women at Sandy Park on 31 Oct 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Despite how exciting the inaugural Women’s British & Irish Lions tour is going to be, there are plenty of significant tournaments to populate the winding road to New Zealand ’27. Of course, the count down to the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup hit day 500 today, yet even more immediate business is taking place in the ongoing 2024 Women’s Six Nations.

England are searching for their third consecutive win in this year’s Championship, after despatching Italy and Wales in the opening two rounds of action. The first fallow week is in the books, and the Red Roses head up to Edinburgh this weekend in what was today confirmed to be a historic first ever sell out, at the Hive Stadium for a Scotland Women’s match.

Should England continue this winning momentum and bring home the title next month, they will win their sixth consecutive Women’s Six Nations Championship, and close in on the historic record set by Maggie Alphonsi’s iconic unbeatables. Alphonsi’s England won a record-setting seven consecutive Women’s Six Nations titles from 2006 to 2012, and the decorated Red Rose believes the opportunity to re-write history could well present itself for John Mitchell’s side next year.

“I think knowing the players and starting to get to know John Mitchell, they probably will try and put that at the back of their minds. Because I guess, there’s that sort of analogy, taking one game at a time and focusing on what’s in front of you. But at the same time, I think they probably will be thinking ‘we get the chance to create history’.

“But what’s been really good about this six nations, I would say that the competitive gap is starting to close now. So no game is an easy game, in every game, you have to be on your best to win it, but also to put in a good performance. And we saw that for England in their first game against Italy. It wasn’t a complete 80 minute performance.”

“The Italians did pretty well to really challenging them the first half, the same with the Welsh. They’ve had professional contracts, they’ve had it for a few years now, So that’s really been able to embed into their performance. And that was a much closer game than what we would have expected maybe a few seasons ago. So what’s been positive about the women’s game and the investment is that competitive gap is closing.

“So, for England, yes, they’re probably thinking, ‘we’re hear to make history’, but at the same time, they’re not taking their foot off the pedal because they fully appreciate that other nations have definitely taken a step forward, and became much more competitive.

The Red Roses will certainly have their work cut out for them, should they pursue this goal of equalising their record of successive Women’s Six Nations titles. The standard of competition in test match women’s rugby is only getting closer, with tournaments like WXV providing platforms for nations to experience that winning feeling, and build on their strengths as a squad.

Maggie Alphonsi broadcast for BT Sport with Craig Doyle during the Allianz Premier 15s Match between Harlequins Women and Wasps Women at Twickenham Stadium on 27 December 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

No such side embodies this better than Scotland. England’s opponents for this weekend, Scotland won three consecutive matches in South Africa, to lift the inaugural WXV2 title last Autumn. Bryan Easson’s side followed this up with a solid win over Wales to kick-start their 2024 Six Nations, before running out a resilient performance in the defeat to France. Speaking on how WXV has elevated teams such-as Scotland, Alphonsi added;

“I think what WXV has done is actually provided high competitive international rugby, another competition so more frequent rugby, which is so important. Being able to enable teams to deal with that pressure, of playing that level of rugby against big opponents. And also that competitiveness to go ‘I want to try and get into WXV1 or 2, or 3’.

It’s created that and also when you succeed, and you’ve performed well, like Scotland have they won all their games and recently won the title of WXV2, that has given them the confidence. Same for England, being able to play against the big opponents, which you don’t always get chance to do, with the New Zealanders, Australians, etc.

“That has been really important for them. But at the same time you know, even teams like Wales, even though they didn’t whenever their WXV1 matches, they got to play at that high level and they’ve been challenged in a way that’s enabled them to go ‘what do we need to do to grow as a team’. So I think it’s really benefited a lot of teams in different ways. Either give confidence like we’ve seen in Scotland, or for teams like Wales ‘okay, what do we need to do to make sure we kick on.'”

England ended a perfect 2023 with their first ever WXV1 title, in a successful tournament that included defeated the Black Ferns in their home country of New Zealand. The Red Roses rounded off their trip to Aotearoa with an emphatic 33-12 win, in what was a statement of intent after their Rugby World Cup Final defeat from 2022. Alphonsi discussed the age old rivalry between the Red Roses and Black Ferns, and expects a response from New Zealand when the two sides next meet down the line.

“I think England would be also quite aware that they can’t rest on their laurels because New Zealand have a tendency of sometimes maybe not winning at key moments between World Cups, but they’re very good at delivering at World Cups. So I think for England it’ll definitely give them confidence, (they are) number one in the world and to beat New Zealand in New Zealand is always a massive confidence booster.

Marlie Packer of England Women looks to evade Kelsie Wills of New Zealand Women during the autumn international match between England Women and New Zealand Women at Sandy Park on 31 Oct 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“At the same time we all know that World Cup years are when New Zealand tend to lift their game. So for England, it’d be a learning curve, and they won’t rest on the laurels. It’s always exciting whenever New Zealand plays because you’re never quite sure what they’ve got in the talent coming through. So it’s always exciting to actually see England and New Zealand go against each other.”

Pivoting her attention back to the importance of today’s occasion, Alphonsi recognised how her position within the media carries great importance to bring more women and girls into rugby. One of the sport’s most leading pundits, Alphonsi has long shone in front of the camera lens, from the commentary gantry, or in her written columns for leading newspapers.

TV presenters, Jill Douglas, Maggie Alphonsi and David Flatman during the England Women Rugby and USA WomenÕs Rugby at Sandy Park on 3 Sept 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK.

A trailblazer for female presenters in rugby, Alphonsi has paved the way for the likes of Danielle ‘Nolli’ Waterman to move from the pitch to the press box. England have more recently launched their own social platforms (@RedRosesRugby), whilst iconic past players have continued this post-playing direction into media, with the likes of Katy Daly-McClean staring with current England midfielder Emily Scarratt on the ‘The Good, the Scaz & the Rugby’ podcast.

“I think what it does do is create visible role models, that’s so significant. Because there’s that quote that people say quite a lot, ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. I mean I think what’s great is that when you have people like myself and many others who are doing roles within broadcasting, it just means that I like to think other young girls coming through the sport, either playing or have stopped playing, go ‘you know what, I’m going to try and find a role in media’. That’s really positive.

TV presenter, Maggie Alphonsi during Allianz Premier 15s final match between Exeter Chiefs Women and Saracens Women at Sixways Stadium, Worcester on June 3, 2022. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“For many of us, we’re still having to break down those barriers. It’s not always well received, sometimes in certain parts, especially when you’re working on the men’s game. But I think what’s been really good is that there’s now more of us, not just in women’s rugby, you’re seeing women working in men’s and women’s football, or men’s and women’s cricket. So there’s a variety of us out there.

“So, I’d like to think what it is doing is just inspiring. And I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but it is inspiring the next generation to go ‘do you know what, I can do that’. I think that’s the key bit. Whenever I stand up and talk on TV, I think it’s not really about me, it’s about trying to inspire someone else who thinks they can do it, that’s a key thing.

Maggie Alphonsi on BT Sport Duties during the Allianz 15s Semi Final Match between Gloucester-Hartpury Women and Bristol Bears Women at Kingsholm on 10 June. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

With fan engagement and support for women’s rugby only continuing to grow, it was another significant step forward to see the iconic rugby brand of Guinness, stamp their name to be the title sponsor of both the Men’s and Women’s Six Nations for the first time. As England continue their hunt to lift their sixth consecutive title, they also pursue a first time trophy with the famous black and white branding of rugby’s partnering stout. Speaking on the significance of the Guinness Women’s Six Nations branding, Alphonsi believes it elevates the tournament to be in the same conversation as the men’s game.

“The Guinness title sponsors with the Six Nations in alignment with men, that’s brilliant, because it just puts us into the same aligned sport. It shows having a big title sponsor that values the women’s game, adds credibility. It really has made a big difference. You know, it feels like we’re talking about the same sport, we’re talking about the same competition, we’re giving it the same level of respect. So that has been actually quite a big game changer for the women’s game.”