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Alphonsi scoops top sports star accolade

(Maggie Alphonsi's star performance in the World Cup Final is highlighted here)

England women's rugby star Maggie Alphonsi has scooped the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year award - one of the top accolades for women's sports in the UK.

Alphonsi beat off competition from far more fancied names - heptathlete Jessica Ennis, gymnast Beth Tweddle, cyclist Emma Pooley, swimmer Fran Halsall, and skeleton Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams.

The Sarcens and England flanker joins a long list of star names in UK sport who have picked up the title over the past 22 years with previous winners including Sally Gunnell, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Denise Lewis, Dame Kelly Holmes, Rebecca Adlington and Victoria Pendleton.

Alphonsi, with 49 England caps, is already a well known name in the rugby world, but her talent gained national sporting attention this year at the World Cup as Sky Sports coverage of her ferocious tackling and try-scoring ability won her thousands of new fans as she helped England reach the World Cup final.

At the tournament, played in England, she was a star throughout - starting the competition with a player of the match performance against Ireland and ending it on the losing World Cup team but unquestionably the best back row player in the World and one of the stand-outs of the final game.

Since then, she has appeared as a commentator and occasional presenter on Sky Sports and she has continued to star for her north London club.

Outside of playing, Alphonsi works as a divisional talent development officer for the RFUW in St Albans and at Twickenham.

She has previously won the IRB Womens Rugby Player of the Year (2006) and the award of an honorary degree from Bedford University for services to womens rugby.

She has captained Saracens and was a member of their Premiership winning team for four consecutive seasons, starting in 2006 and been a member of the triumphant England side in the Six Nations for six years. Other accolades include playing in successful teams in the IRB Sevens and the European Championship and Nations Cup.

The award is a massive coup not just for the player herself but for women's rugby. Beating off the competition of far more household names will help the RFUW to continue the momentum they are working on in building the profile of the sport in England.

England were also nominted in the team award but that was won by Double Scull Rowers Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkiss.