Rugby World Cup winner Alex Matthews targeting Olympic gold as part of Richmond sister act

If Alex Matthews’ father had had his way, his daughters would have looked to pursue an athletics career rather than becoming the elite rugby players they now are.

As it is, both Alex, 21, and her older sister Fran, 25, could still find themselves competing at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro as Rugby Sevens makes its Olympic debut.

But Richmond and England back-row Alex acknowledges how close she was to taking a totally different path.

“My parents aren’t rugby fans at all!” she says. “I think they’re both still trying to get their heads round the rules.

“My dad was very big on his athletics so at first he wanted us to get involved in that, but I was probably four and Fran was about seven, so we were too young to join the athletics club.

“Our parents then took us both along to our local rugby club, so we started playing rugby instead – just think what might have been!”

The sliding doors moment at the athletics club is put in an even starker light when you consider what Alex has already achieved in her still-fledgling career:

England debut at 18; World Cup winner at 21; one of the first female rugby players in England to be awarded a professional central contract; 2014 Premiership and Cup winner with Richmond.

And now she is in the middle of the Women’s Six Nations, scoring her maiden try in the 39-7 win over Italy two weekends ago.

“This is my first Six Nations so I’ve been loving the experience so far,” she says. “We improved from game one, when we lost 13-0 to Wales, and that was what we were trying to do.

“We’re now looking to build on that performance this weekend in Ireland. I’ve never personally been over there to play but the other girls remember the defeat from a couple of years ago and want to right that wrong.

“Everyone seems to have stepped up massively this year. Wales are the best I’ve ever seen them play, and France are very strong – our game against them in the final round is one we’re all looking forward to.

“I’ve been away with the Sevens squad since September so it’s been great to be back in camp playing my first love again.”

Rather than rest on their laurels, England Women and the RFU wisely decided to use last year’s World Cup win as a springboard to grow the game.

The first step they took by way of improvement was to award central contracts to 20 players, including both Alex and Fran, allowing them to train full-time.

The focus of the newly-professional squad is largely on Sevens, with the obvious target of next summer’s Olympics, but they are still available in the Premiership for their clubs and for international XVs matches.

“Central contracts are great because we are able to get our rest in,” says Alex.

“Our training is managed, and it means we can go home at the end of the day and actually have an evening, have dinner with our families.

“There’s more time to analyse the games, so we’re better prepared than ever and know what we’re coming up against and know what we’re supposed to do.

“The Olympics in Rio is the ultimate target but we’ve got to qualify for it first. It would be a dream to get there though.”

On top of all the rugby, Alex has also managed to find time to earn a degree in Sports Psychology from the University of Roehampton after graduating last summer.

For now, though, the future of both women’s rugby and Alex Matthew is looking bright.

“The World Cup had a huge impact,” she says. “There is obviously still so much work to be done but there was a big public shift – people would stop you in the street and say ‘well done!’

“My local rugby club said they had had 14 new girls join up after we had won, and last week we had a whole stand full at the Twickenham Stoop, which is more than we’ve ever had. It’s growing, and it’s very exciting.”

Feature image of Alex Matthews, courtesy of, with thanks

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