She knows she is aiming high, that it might turn out to be nothing more than a
pipe dream, but Alphonsiâs mental strength is such that you would hesitate
to bet against her.
A junior champion at discus and shot put, she is now toying with the idea of
returning to the sports of her youth and seeing how far she can take them.
âPeople always say that if your mind is there then your body will take it
the rest of the way,â she explained.
Not that she expects to walk right in. Spend any time with Alphonsi and you
soon appreciate that the ferocious determination that sustained her for more
than a decade at the top of rugby, through heartbreaking World Cup final
defeats and a near-crippling knee injury, is balanced by the touching
humility she will unquestionably need as she takes the baby steps of the
next phase of her sporting journey.
âI want to be competitive,â Alphonsi said. âThe world is my oyster at the
moment. Iâm at the point where Iâm content with what Iâve achieved and the
question of being the best is not a stress any more. But if I get the
opportunity in another sport then the mindset is still going to be there.
âAs a thrower, I think I still hold a record at under-16 level. I look at it
and I havenât done it for a long time, so I would just have to see where Iâm
at. Iâm not fooling myself because I know there are a lot of top throwers in
Great Britain at the moment.
âI can only put myself out there and see what happens. You never know. Rio is
still two years away. If it was an option then I might go for it, but I
would be competing against some pretty top athletes and I have to be
Alphonsi delayed her retirement decision until after the World Cup, clinched
in tumultuous circumstances with a 21-9 final victory over Canada just over
three weeks ago, was safely secured.
âTo be honest, before the World Cup I knew in my heart that this would
probably be my last,â she said. âBut then, if we had lost it then my mind
and my body would probably have been saying âkeep goingâ. It was good to get
it done, go off on holiday, and make up my mind.â
Of course, there was also a massive irony. Englandâs victory captured hearts
as their team of amateurs seemed to embody so many of rugbyâs old Corinthian
values. In its aftermath, the Rugby Football Union confirmed that 20 of the
players were to be awarded professional contracts, allowing them to train
Few would dispute the suggestion that Alphonsi, who was made an MBE for her
services to the sport in 2012, had done more than any other individual to
make that possible.
But she can still enjoy the afterglow. On Tuesday, she and her England
team-mates attended a reception at Downing Street to honour their World Cup
While she has gone from the international stage, she remains the highest
profile woman player in the country, a status she will put to good use over
the next year as she joins Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and Jonny
Wilkinson as an ambassador for next yearâs Rugby World Cup. The menâs
version, that is.
Through her involvement with Saracens, she is also determined to raise the
profile of the womenâs game still further.
âThatâs the future for womenâs rugby,â Alphonsi said. âAt the moment, there is
a lot of attention at international level, which is brilliant, but to help
to continue to develop the sport we have to increase the coverage at
grass-roots and club level. A lot of the womenâs clubs are associated with
menâs clubs and there is a great opportunity to promote the game.â
But would a clean break from rugby not have made more sense? Does she harbour
a fear that she will regret her decision to step down from the international
stage when her team-mates go off to England camps?
She can see the danger. âI would like to think I will still have the same
mindset that I do now. I might have a little feeling of wanting to be back
involved, but I think I will still be content with my decision. But then,
never say never. As long as youâre playing you can always come back, you can
always come out of retirement. Who knows?â
Maggie Alphonsi dreams of following England World Cup rugby triumph with ...