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Alphonsi: Six names to watch

Our guest columnist this month is Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi who picks out six rising stars in England to keep an eye on. 

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It’s been nearly a year since me and my England teammates lifted the Rugby World Cup in Paris and what an 11 months it has been for the team since then. Awards off the pitch came flooding in but silverware on the pitch has unquestionably been tougher to come by.

It’s been difficult to watch to be honest, but it has been no great surprise. A lot has happened since that victorious day on Sunday August 17th. I retired, as did Sophie Hemming, Jo McGilchrist, Becky Essex, Claire Purdy (aka the self-named ‘Grannies’) and Kat Merchant who definitely did not call herself a Granny!

There was a change of management too with the sudden departures of World Cup winning coaches Gary Street and Graham Smith on the eve of the Six Nations. Four months later, and a disappointing fourth place finish in the Six Nations, and in came Matt Ferguson, Scott Bemand and Simon Middleton, the latter who has taken on the Head Coach role of both the XVs and Sevens programme.  Now add into the mix that England changed their playing priorities from XVs to Sevens to focus on Olympic qualification and it’s not hard to see why results haven’t been quite some glorious.

What is encouraging though is that I can see a lot of exciting new players coming through and that was obvious in Canada this month when England contested the Rugby Super Series.  Here are my thoughts on who to watch out for.

Abbie Scott (Second Row):

Second rows rarely get the plaudits they deserve but it’s hard not to watch Abbie Scott in action and ignore the amount of work she does in that role. Towering at 5ft 11inch she is dominate in the lineout and has the physical stature to boost, which makes her an effective ball carrier. She has settled into her role well and I believe she has the capabilities to go onwards and up.

Amy Cokayne (Hooker):

When I watch Amy play, the words strong, aggressive and unstoppable come to mind. England has always had a long line of talented hookers come through and she is another one to add to that list. She reminds me of the England and Northampton Hooker Dylan Hartley. Similar to him, she spent much of her youth in New Zealand, and has the physicality and determination that comes with playing sport in a country where the culture is to live and breathe rugby. She is still young and developing her skills but it’s exciting to think what she could go on to achieve.

Amy Wilson-Hardy (Centre): (pictured)

Amy has really made her name in the Sevens world. Her physical presence and imposing runs make her very hard to stop. What also makes Amy a special player is her hunger to learn and develop. She has been part of the England pathway for some time now and her hard work is definitely paying off. If I was to compare her to a player it would be the England and Bath centre Jonathan Joseph. Like him she is physical and backs herself in every decision she makes. She has huge potential and shouldn’t just be limited to playing Sevens.  

Sarah McKenna (Fly-Half):

Sarah is a very exciting player to watch. She has a very similar style of play to the England and Bath fly-half George Ford as she can make something out of nothing. Sarah knows how to read a game and really does play like she is one step ahead of everyone. Like George Ford she has a good kicking game to boost and can play in the centres and is also a tad nifty in the full-back position. Definitely one to watch!

Sydney Gregson (Winger):

A player who I have had the pleasure to coach and play on the same side with...and against! I can quite confidently say she is an athlete who possesses so much skill and talent. Her style of rugby is very similar to the majestic England and Bristol full-back Danielle Waterman, as her footwork and agility is astonishing and mind blowing. The future looks bright for Sydney and I look forward to following her progression.

Alex Matthews (Backrow):

You wouldn’t really call her a rising star as she is someone who has been around the England set up for many years but Alex is still a youngster who has years of international rugby ahead of her. Alex has a remarkable ability to make breaks through an opposition’s defence where there appears to be no gap. She has great pace, great hands and reads a game very well. Definitely one to watch out for the future!

So....these are my six names to watch out for, but I have to say the England team is full of even more potential and talent if the new coaching team can get the mix right. With just over a year to go until the Olympics in Rio and two years to go till the Rugby World Cup in Ireland, it is all go for England and I am confident they will be ready when that time comes!