Maggie Alphonsi: Olympics can encourage more girls to take up rugby
England World Cup-winner Maggie Alphonsi has dismissed criticism of rugby sevens' inclusion in the Olympic Games and insists it will play a vital role in encouraging more young girls to take up the sport.
Alphonsi retired shortly after helping England lift the 2014 Rugby World Cup in France and admitted she is "very envious" of former team-mates who will be on the plane to Rio.
As golf returns to the Games after a 112-year absence, rugby sevens will make its Olympic debut in Brazil, sparking concerns in some quarters about so-called big-name sports getting the nod over those with less obvious commercial potential.
Alphonsi said: "I never believed rugby would get into the Olympics in any form but I think it will be fantastic for the sport as a whole and bring a lot of excitement to the Olympics.
"There is already a lot of criticism about sports like golf, football and tennis being in the Olympics but if you look at it from a women's perspective, football in 2012 had a massive impact on the game.
"The same will be true for rugby and I think if Great Britain can push for a medal it can really make a big difference both in terms of sevens but also full-size rugby for girls of all ages to take up the sport."
Alphonsi was speaking at the launch of the "Play to Your Strengths" programme in Darlington, which is part of England Rugby's nationwide project to inspire more participation in the game.
She added: "I think GB women have a very good chance. We are one of the top four teams in the competition. There will be a lot of expectation on our shoulders but we have done it at the top level and will definitely be up there fighting for a medal."