England are the reigning champions, and along with Ireland, New Zealand, France and Canada look like the teams to beat, according to Alphonsi. Among those the top teams there a few individuals who are ready to take centre stage.
Alphonsi, a former flanker who won seven consecutive Six Nations titles as well as the World Cup, knows a thing or two about success, so we asked her to put her 74 England caps’ worth of experience to the test and guide us through who we should be looking out for:
Lydia Thompson, England
MA: Lydia played in the 2014 World Cup but got injured. Over the last seasons she has really hit some form and she’s a player that has come to fruition over the last few months, especially in the last Six Nations. She plays on the wing, has fantastic pace and real intelligence — good rugby smarts. She’s really progressed this season so expect big things.
Portia Woodman, New Zealand
MA: She’s been outstanding on the Sevens circuit and is one of the fastest players in women’s rugby. I think she’s better on the wing than at outside centre. She’s a former netball player so she’s obviously an outstanding athlete and quick as anything. She’s still adjusting to XVs, and still probably trying to find her feet at 13, so I hope they play her wide. If there’s a negative it might be her defence, she got outpaced by Lydia Thompson a few times at the International Women’s Rugby Series in June, but she’s such a real threat with ball in hand.
Claire Molloy, Ireland
MA: Claire is an openside flanker, although she can also play blindside, who plays for Bristol. She’s diminutive but punches above her weight. She’s an excellent athlete, strong, quick, with good pace, great skill set. She’s got a bit of everything and because she’s small she’s quick over the ball and hard to move. She’s a very handy player to have in your side because even though she’s a forward she plays a bit like a back in the open field. She plays on the edge but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her yellow carded so she’s clearly got a lot of nous.
Magali Harvey, Canada
MA: A lot of Canada’s players have stuck with Sevens, but some have crossed back over and Harvey is one of them. She’s a talented back three and won World Player of the Year in 2014, which is when she scored an incredible try at the World Cup. She was one of the key players in Canada’s Sevens side but when she didn’t get selected in the squad she made it quite clear she wasn’t very happy. She went to New Zealand to play and has come back recently in excellent form. She’s quick, a talented athlete and good all-around player.
Safi N’Diaye, France
MA: Safi is powerful No. 8 who I often highlight as someone to look out for. She’s a big ball carrier, but talented as well — it takes a lot to bring her down as she’s so strong, but she is also deceptively fit and agile. As a No. 8 you’re looking for someone to provide a platform for the backs to express themselves and she’s excellent at that. France have always just missed out at major tournaments, they’re normally third or fourth, so if they’re to do any better they need her to perform.
Alex Matthews, England
MA: Young, athletic and very versatile. Alex used to play centre when she was younger which helps explain her athletic style, but now she plays in the back row and has been excellent since the switch. Her preferred positions are at six or no.8 and I’m really looking forward to seeing her at this tournament because she’s been unlucky with injuries in the past.
The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup will be covered by ITV4 and Maggie will be part of the broadcast team covering the tournament.