Maggie Alphonsi: Investment in grassroots rugby is the future of the women’s game

Maggie Alphonsi snaps a selfie at Howden’s Big Rugby Day Out

By James Reid

England legend Maggie Alphonsi believes investment in grassroots rugby is the future of the women’s game ahead of the inaugural women’s British & Irish Lions Tour in 2027.

Alphonsi represented the Red Roses 74 times and won the Rugby World Cup in 2014 but admitted she would have got nowhere without the community game, after first being encouraged to try the sport by a school teacher.

It was from there that her rugby journey took off, as she quickly rose up the ranks before becoming an integral part of the England side that won a record seven consecutive Six Nations titles.

And Alphonsi, who was in attendance as an ambassador at Howden’s Big Rugby Day Out in Oxford, believes the rapid growth of women’s and girls’ teams at grassroots can only mean good things for the very top echelons of the game.

Former international Maggie Alphonsi at Howden and British & Irish Lions Big Rugby Day Out
Former international Maggie Alphonsi at Howden and British & Irish Lions Big Rugby Day Out

“The community game is important because that’s where our players come from,” said Alphonsi.

“We talk about what happens at the top end, but it’s really about nurturing our players to come through. It’s nice talking to young kids because they really want to go far and just have fun. It’s great to see that Howden are investing in it.

“My origins were growing up in North London where it wasn’t very rugby-oriented environment. I found rugby at school through my PE teacher, a lady called Lisa Burgess - a former Wales international - she told me to give it a go and I never looked back.

“Rugby was a sport that really worked for me, my size and my shape and I really enjoyed being in that team environment where you had to work hard and look after your teammates to get the result you wanted.

“It’s the best time for women’s rugby right now. We have lots of girls who have started a women’s or girls’ section and they are thriving. You talk to people and they tell you their stories of how they started with only three girls and now they have 60 girls.

“It inspires me, it motivates me to think the game is growing and it’s all happening at community clubs. We just have to keep supporting it. That’s the work Howden are doing to keep that going.”

Alphonsi was one of a number of stars in attendance in Oxford, as junior players took part in coaching sessions run by British & Irish Lions legend Jason Robinson and met 1993 Lions captain Gavin Hastings.

It was all part of new British & Irish Lions principal sponsor Howden’s focus on the community game, with its Lions Origin Club project commemorating each grassroots club that played a part in a Lion’s journey to the top of the game.

There are 711 Lions Origin Clubs who have produced 855 past British & Irish Lions, with each club set to receive a plaque to mark the achievement.

The new partnership also sees Howden sponsor the first-ever women’s Lions tour to New Zealand in 2027, and Alphonsi believes it is a landmark moment for the women’s game,.

“It’s so good to have that parity, for Howden to sponsor both the men’s and the women’s, the first Lions tour for the women, it’s incredibly special,” she added.

“Some of these women are going to wear that famous red jersey, I am gutted I’m not going to have that opportunity. It’s nice to know that one day my son or my daughter can both play for the Lions.”

The Howden logo will sit front and centre on the famous red jersey in Australia next year, when the Lions will compete in front of their legendary fans for the first time in eight years, as well as on the groundbreaking New Zealand tour in 2027.

Head of global sponsorships Giles Morgan underlined the honour of such a prestigious place in sporting history and reaffirmed Howden’s commitment to both the elite and community game.

“We want to meet all the Lions Origins clubs and celebrate them, not just because of history but for the future as well,” he said.

“The rugby family is enormous in this country and as a new sponsor we want to earn the right to be on the Lions jersey.

“We want to get to know the rugby community, right the way across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and celebrating the origin clubs feels a great way to do that.”

As part of their partnership with The British & Irish Lions, Howden will be supporting the grassroots game