Planet Rugby

The Expert Witness

06th March 2013 10:39

Share:

Expert witness Maggie Alphonsi

Building for RWC 2014: England

With the Six Nations combatants taking a well earned break last weekend, this week's Expert Witness changes its focus to the Women's Six Nations tournament. With the competition producing some unexpected results this season, we welcome England flank and superstar of the Women's game, Maggie Alphonsi MBE.

With England, formally a dominant force in the Women's Six Nations, showing a marked decline if not in form but in results, and with Italian ladies mirroring their male counterparts by defeating arch-rivals France, this years' tournament has thrown up a few shocks and surprises already. Alphonsi is quick to point out that, where England are concerned, their dip is almost by design rather than by accident.

"With the World Cup 7's tournament later on this year, the Management and Coaches have deliberately decided to remove 17 players from our EPS in order to place their focus on the Sevens World Cup. It does mean that we're fielding quite an inexperienced side in the Six Nations, but from our perspective, it also allows us to build to the next Women's 15 a side World Cup in 2014.

"Winning tournaments like that demands strength in depth, and we've been delighted by the reaction of a few of the players we've thrown in the deep end, so to speak!"

Two youngsters who have made a massive impression already are openside Hannah Gallagher and number eight Harriet Mills. Alphonsi welcomes the competition in her favoured back-row position:

"My injury, combined with the players removed from the EPS have given both Hannah and Harriet a real opportunity, and they've performed well. Having this level of competition in the squad keeps everyone honest. I realise that Hannah's displays mean I have to work extra hard if I'm to meet my comeback targets after my knee operation. I'm due back in a few weeks and am looking forward to it." (Alphonsi underwent surgery for a Meniscus tear in her knee earlier this season).

Ireland and France have both been very strong this season. In addition Italy have shown remarkable improvement and the competition seems very strong. What has caused the levelling of the playing field? Alphonsi believes that the Women's game is becoming more and more professional.

"France, Ireland and Italy have followed England's lead by investing intelligently and putting in place much tighter and progressive structures. The result is we're starting to see real athletes in the Women's game and even looking back 4 or 5 years, the fitness and power levels have increased significantly.

"If you take a team like Ireland, whilst they've always been a good side, they've made sure that the leading four provinces have the majority of their international players. As in the men's game, the Irish are very good at selecting known club partnerships. These players play together from a young age and that understanding shows," explained Alphonsi.

"Looking back at the results, Italy's commitment to improving their game showed when they took France in the opening round. However, I think Wales felt the French backlash when they beat them and nilled them fairly and squarely at home a couple of weeks later!" observed Alphonsi.

"The next round has some very interesting fixtures, but the Irish/French game stands out to me. It's a tough one to call, and it could turn out to be the championship decider, but Ireland have played well this year and will be a tough nut to crack at their home ground, Ashbourne RFC."

So it appears the Women's game is in rude health. The growth in the game is exponential, with an increase of over 104 percent in playing numbers in England in the last nine years. As England's ladies focus on the World Cups ahead, Alphonsi admits she's been thoroughly enjoying this year's men's Six Nations.

"It's been a tournament of very fine margins," she observed.

"England have a knack of winning the close games and winning them ugly if they need to, and that's a great habit and one all good sides have.

"There's much talk of a Grand Slam for England, but playing Italy is always a hugely physical encounter," she added.

"Italy take a lot out of the players. They are big and physical. England's first priority will be to win, but secondly to keep knocks and injuries down to a minimum.

"Scotland's turn around has also impressed me. They have a couple of high quality players in Stuart Hogg and Kelly Brown and those guys are leading from the front.

"Going back to England, I think that other sides in the competition have left their rebuilding for RWC 2015 slightly late. England are a year ahead in terms of blooding youngsters and knowing their best 23 players. Stuart Lancaster is picking from many options, depending on form, gameplan and fitness, and that's an enviable position to be in."

Alphonsi has had a long lay-off from the game. A meniscus tear in her knee required extensive surgery and has meant an enforced absence for the player they call The Machine.

"It's always important not to rush back in these situations. I'm comfortable with my progress and I expect to be playing in a reasonably short period of time, certainly this season," confirmed the Saracens flanker.

So that's it for this week's Expert Witness. For the next round of Six Nations games, it will be business as normal as we catch up with another legend of rugby to cast an eye over Round Four of the Six Nations.

Tickets are available for England's home match against Italy on March 9th, KO 1pm at Esher, here

Maggie Alphonsi spoke to James While

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 26
London Welsh vs Gloucester19:45
Saturday , September 27
Saracens vs Sale15:00
Leicester vs London Irish15:00
Northampton vs Bath15:15
Sunday , September 28
Exeter vs Harlequins14:00
Wasps vs Newcastle14:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 27
South Africa vs Australia16:05
Argentina vs New Zealand23:10
More Rugby Championship fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 26
Edinburgh vs Scarlets19:35
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues19:35
Glasgow vs Connacht19:35
Saturday , September 27
Zebre vs Ulster15:00
Munster vs Ospreys18:30
Sunday , September 28
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Benetton Treviso16:00
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , September 27
Toulon vs Montpellier18:00
Stade Francais vs La Rochelle18:00
Bayonne vs Toulouse18:00
Brive vs Bordeaux-Begles18:00
Oyonnax vs Clermont Auvergne18:00
Lyon vs Castres18:00
Grenoble vs Racing Metro Paris18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Friday , September 26
Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls19:10
Saturday , September 27
Sharks vs Eastern Province Kings14:00
Pumas vs Western Province15:00
Griquas vs Lions15:00
More Currie Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 21
Newcastle 10 - 35 NorthamptonNewcastle vs Northampton Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Ospreys 62 - 13 EdinburghOspreys vs Edinburgh Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
ITM Cup
Otago 38 - 7 WaikatoOtago vs Waikato Report
Wellington 20 - 42 TasmanWellington vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 20
Sale 46 - 8 London WelshSale vs London Welsh Report
Harlequins 26 - 23 WaspsHarlequins vs Wasps Report
London Irish 32 - 36 SaracensLondon Irish vs Saracens Report
Bath 45 - 0 LeicesterBath vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Newport Gwent D'gons 13 - 33 GlasgowNewport Gwent D
Scarlets 43 - 0 Benetton TrevisoScarlets vs Benetton Treviso Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Racing Metro Paris 27 - 16 ToulouseRacing Metro Paris vs Toulouse Report
Grenoble 24 - 15 Bayonne
Montpellier 23 - 3 Stade FrancaisMontpellier vs Stade Francais Report
La Rochelle 26 - 29 Bordeaux-Begles
Clermont Auvergne 43 - 12 LyonClermont Auvergne vs Lyon Report
Castres 27 - 18 Oyonnax
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Western Province 36 - 12 GriquasWestern Province vs Griquas Report
Blue Bulls 15 - 26 SharksBlue Bulls vs Sharks Report
Eastern Province Kings 22 - 37 CheetahsEastern Province Kings vs Cheetahs Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Hawkes Bay 36 - 17 Bay Of Plenty
Manawatu 36 - 17 Southland
Auckland 32 - 7 North HarbourAuckland vs North Harbour Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 19
Gloucester 22 - 25 ExeterGloucester vs Exeter Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Munster 31 - 5 ZebreMunster vs Zebre Report
Cardiff Blues 9 - 26 UlsterCardiff Blues vs Ulster Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Bath314
2Saracens313
3Northampton311
4Exeter310
5Leicester Tigers39