Alice in Wonderland

Alice Richardson400Alice playing against Saracens

She’s considered by many to be one of the best female rugby players on the planet, and going to meet her for the first time in a busy Starbucks you naturally expect someone a bit different. But no, RFC Women star Alice Richardson turns out to be ‘ordinary’, a label she attaches to herself very early in our chat.

Mind you, the upmarket tracksuit she’s wearing suggests there’s more to her, and indeed there is.  She could swim a mile at the age of 5. She played County tennis and had an LTA ranking before following her brother into rugby at the age of 16. Asked why she switched she says she wouldn’t have made it in tennis, and that’s an indication of an urge to be the best somewhere, almost anywhere in sport, and that’s far from ordinary.

Alice played through the levels at her local club, Worcester, then went on to St Mary’s to do a degree in Sports Science and Nutrition. And play more rugby, which got her into the England set-up and a first cap at centre at the age of 18. She now has 32 according to the RFU website, and asked for confirmation she says she’s not sure, but thinks 32 is right. She almost certainly knows the number of caps but she’s too modest, too ordinary to just say it. I resist the urge to shake her and bawl “For God’s sake, Alice, if I had 32 caps I’d have it tattooed on my forehead!” But that’s not her.

She came to RFC because we had an opening at 10, her preferred position. The club suits her and she rates the facilities at the RAA. Being allowed to play on the first team pitch and having buses provided for away games are highlighted as  RFC plus points – and as our Women have won their premiership three times on the bounce they’re very welcome, thank you. She’d like to see a girls’ 12 to 18 set-up but is happy otherwise and you really do think the women are not looking for too much in return for the kudos they bring to us.

She lives locally, sharing with a teammate in Isleworth and works as a personal trainer when she isn’t personally training, if you follow.  It’s clear that sport and exercise are very central in her life. Socially she likes a steak and the odd drink but admits to being a lightweight on the booze. Alice says she’s never worked in an office and it’s likely that she never will. Her ambition is to have her own fitness studio specialising in personal training and nutrition, and she’d like to work in Oz or the US.

What’s next for her in rugby? Well, she’s skippered England at 7's already and the World Cup 7's for Women was in Moscow in 2013, followed by the full side World Cup in France in 2014. But the pinnacle for her is the 7's at the Olympics in Rio in 2016. She wants to be involved in all of these great festivals and expects up to four RFC teammates in the 7's squad and maybe up to eight in the 15's.

A degree of funding for all this is on the table, and it needs to be as countries such as Russia, China and Japan with no great heritage in the game make financial support available to their women. After the glories of the London Olympics we’ll expect a good showing from our inaugural 7's team in Rio even with this kind of enhanced competition, and Alice is determined to do her bit. And she probably will, all being well - just an ordinary young woman doing things that are very far from ordinary to the rest of us.

Paul Grindrod

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