England's 'Maggie The Machine' ready to take on the world

The Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday 1 August. We caught up with England and Saracens flanker Maggie Alphonsi ahead of the tournament to talk machines, Ma’a Nonu and Muhammad Ali…

Tackling is my bread and butter and helped inspire my nickname “Maggie the Machine“.

I quite like it and try to live up to it. I like to think I have a combination of Chris Robshaw’s work-rate, Ma’a Nonu’s tackling and Richie McCaw’s game intelligence.

It’s not what you would expect from someone born with a club foot. I had an operation to correct the problem at a young age but, if you see me on the pitch, you’ll see I run slightly differently to most people.

I’m probably never going to make it as an Olympic 100m sprinter but I’ve never known anything different. I just got on with it.

I’m getting ready for my third World Cup with England – but it could all have been very different if I hadn’t chanced upon rugby as a boisterous teenager.

I loved playing sport at school but I was always getting in trouble for messing around in lessons: pretty much the only lesson I didn’t play up in was PE! But it got to the point where my mum had to come in to persuade them not to expel me.

Luckily, my PE teacher played for the Welsh women’s national team and suggested I gave rugby a try. I was always pretty physical and now I could take out my aggression and get praised for it rather than get in trouble. It really was a turning point for me.

I was a bit of a geek at university but, away from the library and lecture theatre, I trained really, really hard to excel in my sport. While all my mates went out drinking every night I was either training, studying or playing rugby.

Women’s rugby has come such a long way since I had to get changed in the toilets in my early days in the game. There’s been a dramatic change in the way women are perceived in rugby, the number of teams and the attention the sport is getting.

This World Cup is a massive opportunity to take it to the next level.

It really does feel like we’re getting support from the whole country and I’m really excited about where it’s going to go from here. This World Cup should be better than ever because you’ll see a higher standard of athletes from all the nations.

Sporting hero: Muhammad Ali – I’m not a talker like him but his confidence in his ability and the aura he had was something else. He lost fights as well, which people don’t always remember, but every time he came back.

Favourite music: I was the lead guitarist in a band at high school and now I love stuff like old Motown, Ed Sheeran, Tracy Chapman and, dare I say it, One Direction!

Hobbies: I try to get out with my cycling club in Amersham most Sundays. I love watching the Tour de France and how amazingly hard they work as athletes. You can get a bit addicted to buying bikes and accessories for your bike so it can get expensive, but I absolutely love it.

Work life: I work as an athlete mentor manager for the Youth Sports Trust, which I just love!