Major teams: Saracens
Position: Openside flanker
Test span: 2003-14
Maggie Alphonsi made as big an impact in raising the profile of women’s rugby as she did when tackling opponents in matches.
Within the game, the flanker had long been famous for her fearsome hits and physicality, but it was her eye-catching performances at the 2010 World Cup that helped catapult the affable Alphonsi into the wider sporting consciousness. The TV commentators even nicknamed her ‘Maggie the Machine’ when her shuddering tackling ability became a mainstay of every game she was involved in.
Alphonsi took up the game at school after encouragement from her PE teacher, who just happened to be then Wales captain Liza Burgess. After attending a training session at Saracens, she progressed quickly and, at the age of 18, was selected for the England Academy squad and a year later won her first Test cap.
She announced her international retirement last year, having represented her country an impressive 74 times, scored 28 tries and helped them win a record seven consecutive Six Nations titles as well as the 2014 World Cup. Before hanging up her boots altogether, she also led Saracens to a league-and-cup double in 2015.
Ex-England coach Gary Street believes no other player exerted such influence on the women’s game. “She reinvented the game in 2010. She changed a lot of perceptions on what female rugby players can do,” he said.
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Off the pitch Alphonsi’s achievements are quite something. They include being named The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year in 2010, beating Jessica Ennis, Beth Tweddle and Amy Williams to the award, and winning the prestigious Pat Marshall Award from the Rugby Union Writers’ Club, pipping New Zealand captain Richie McCaw to become the first woman to claim the prize in its 50-year history.