England legends Alphonsi and Waterman hail launch of women's Lions team

England legends Alphonsi and Waterman hail launch of women's Lions team

By Paul Martin

Maggie Alphonsi and Danielle Waterman share 156 England caps between them but there is a sense both would have traded a few for a chance to call themselves a British & Irish Lion.

The pair were World Cup winners in 2014 but it took another five years before exploratory conversations around the concept of a women’s Lions team began.

Former Red Roses skipper Alphonsi, 40, was involved in those discussions and what seemed at one stage distant ambition has now become a reality following the announcement of the three-Test Howden British & Irish Lions Women’s Series in New Zealand in 2027.

“No words can describe how special it will be to see women wear the red jersey,” she said.

“They get that on their rugby CV, and many of us would do anything to have had that. Throughout my childhood, I’d never thought about the possibility of a women’s Lions team.

“I’d have loved this to be around in my time but the fact it’s happening is all that matters.

“I will be really emotional about it, as I was when I saw the first women accept professional contracts.

“That was a huge development at the time and this is another one. It is a watershed moment and it is history making.”

The opportunity to tour as a player has also come too late for Waterman, 38, who cites commentating on the men’s Lions in 2021 as the highlight of her post-playing career as a commentator.

And the 82-cap full-back joined her old captain in sounding green with envy at those who will be the first to wear the storied red jersey.

“It’s probably completed the set for what is now available for women’s rugby,” she said.

“One of the best experiences I had was playing for Barbarians at Twickenham against England and that bringing together of players from teams you’d played against for years, the respect, the unity, the fun we had was amazing.

“I can only imagine how special it will be to be part of an iconic team and an iconic opportunity – especially going to New Zealand, notoriously the hardest place to go and win.

“They were superb hosts of the last World Cup and they inspired a generation of young girls and boys by winning it.

“The next World Cup [in England] in 2025 will be a brilliant stepping stone to build excitement. To have that legacy, and now the Lions, is huge for inspiring young girls and boys.”

Waterman has experience of representing multiple home nations having played rugby sevens for Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The final squad on that occasion contained just one non-English player, Wales’ Jasmine Joyce, and there are concerns the inaugural Lions squad will have a similarly Red Roses-heavy make-up.

But Alphonsi believes the gap is closing as the remaining home nations advance their professional programmes, with the upcoming Women’s Six Nations set to provide the next barometer of progress.

“It’s really early to have conversations about selection,” she said.

“We are still three-and-a-half years away. More nations are introducing professional contracts and focusing on their women’s teams.

“I can only see that growing in the next three years. The big focus now is ensuring we support and drive all the unions to ensure we have a big talent pool.”

Howden is the Principal Partner of the British and Irish Lions. Through their support Howden aim to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the game and to leave a positive legacy, spanning from grassroots to the elite levels, through the duration of the partnership.