- Alphonsi won 74 caps for England
- The 2014 World Cup winner scored 28 tries for her country
- Tickets available here for Ireland v England Women
Former England flanker Maggie Alphonsi previews Friday's Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam decider between the Red Roses and Ireland at Donnybrook (kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports Mix, EnglandRugby.com and England Rugby Facebook).
“The emotions are going to be rising high for this match, for England they last won a Women’s Six Nations in 2012. It’s been a long time waiting for them and they will be keen to put this right on Friday night.
“Both teams are under pressure, Ireland are at home on St Patrick’s Day and their fans will be expecting a lot from them. They’re also hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup in the summer, so there is an added weight on their shoulders to do well. If they win it will be superb preparation for their home World Cup and it will help raise the profile of the Women's game in Ireland.”
‘The comeback queens’
“There were a lot of questions surrounding Ireland heading into the Women’s Six Nations, they didn’t get the results they wanted in the autumn series. There were certainly a lot of reservations about them but they’ve exceeded expectations. They’ve raised the bar and have really grown into the tournament. "They’ve raised the bar and have really grown into the tournament."
“Everyone knew England would do well in the Six Nations after a very good autumn series, they had three solid wins and they came close to beating New Zealand. They’re starting to prove they have the consistency to match their capabilities.
“However Ireland are the comeback queens at the moment, they always seem to finish strongly in the second half. They scored crucial tries in the last 20 minutes against Wales and Scotland to seal victory and held off France very well towards the end too. They’ve proved they can finish strong so England need to be at their very best for the full 80 minutes.”
An even battle
“Ireland aren’t that different to England, they have threats all over the field. Their back row is immense and in Claire Molloy they have a very strong number seven. She’s a poacher in the same way as Marlie Packer is for England and both play at Bristol so they know each other well. That’s going to be a huge battle and whoever comes out on top could emerge on the winning side.
“Ireland have a very strong centre combination in Sene Naoupu and Jenny Murphy. Naoupu has returned from their sevens squad and is a strong and electric player while Murphy is in great form after scoring the winning last-ditch try against Scotland. Both sides have strong centre partnerships and that’s going to be an intriguing match-up.”
Red Roses strength in depth
“There is so much depth in England’s set-up right now. Eddie Jones always talks about having three quality players in each position for the men’s side and having that strength in depth. The Red Roses are starting to get that.
“The World Cup is only around the corner and competition for places is fierce. If players are fighting for the jersey it will only make England a better team. Head coach Simon Middleton is in a fortunate position to have such an array of talent to choose from.”
Memories of a Grand Slam
“When we won the Grand Slam I felt a combination of exhilaration and relief. The Six Nations is such an intense competition that throws up big matches. You’ve got to maintain your form throughout the Championship, one little slip-up and the Grand Slam is out of your grasp..
“When you finally finish on top it feels like it’s all been worth it. To win the Grand Slam is one of the best feelings you could ever imagine. Finally, you can now call yourself the best team in Europe. You hold that title for 12 months until it all starts again, so it really is something you cherish."
Momentum key in World Cup year
“It’s very important for England to claim the Grand Slam this year. Before our World Cup win in 2014 we didn’t win the Six Nations and it certainly would have given us more confidence heading into the tournament. It’s an opportunity to continue to grow your self-belief. It will also give them momentum heading into a tough summer tour in New Zealand, playing against three of the best sides in the world in Australia, Canada and the hosts.
“No team is the finished article until the World Cup and Middleton will want his side to peak then. That’s the priority for them. The Red Roses will want to lay down a marker to the rest of the world heading into the World Cup and winning this Grand Slam will most definitely do that.”
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