STOURBRIDGE rugby star Lydia Thompson could be the catalyst for England’s success at the Women’s Rugby World Cup, according to former teammate Maggie Alphonsi.

Thompson, a former student at King Edward VI College, was a member of the 2014 winning squad alongside the now-retired Alphonsi, and the 25-year-old will pull on the jersey yet again at the tournament in Ireland next month.

Three years ago, the winger saw her World Cup cut short after picking up a groin injury, but has since solidified her place in the starting XV and impressed at last month’s International Women’s Rugby Series in New Zealand.

And for Alphonsi, Thompson – who plays her club rugby for Worcester Valkyries – will be an integral cog in the England machine if they are to seal back-to-back titles.

“One player I would say to watch out for is Lydia Thompson,” she said.

“I try not to talk up players before a World Cup because sometimes when a World Cup comes you can spot stars who you’ve not heard of.

“People don’t know a lot about her but during the International Women’s Rugby Series she was outstanding, she outpaced Portia Woodman who we thought was the fastest in the world so she’s one to look out for.

“It’s her second World Cup, she was involved in 2014 but picked up an injury so didn’t really make it through the final.

“She’s a great athlete with lots of pace but also very grounded so she’s one to watch out for. She had a very good Six Nations, she’s a very good finisher on the wing and she will score tries for fun.

“Looking at the pool she should score loads of tries but the question is whether that will help England or not be in their favour when you think about being battle-hardened.”

England, who are ranked first in the world, find themselves in a pool with Italy, Spain and the USA in the tournament, and are expected to top their group and secure a semi-final berth.

Going into the tournament as favourites brings its own pressures, but Alphonsi believes captain Sarah Hunter and coach Simon Middleton have got England in the right frame of mind following a victory in New Zealand this summer after a Grand Slam early in the year.

She added: “Sarah Hunter has already mentioned about staying grounded. It’s great winning beforehand but the priority is winning a World Cup.

“World Cups bring out different beasts, everyone wants to win, you’ll be remembered for that World Cup win rather than what came before it.

“So the key thing for the women’s team is to make sure they improve, get those combinations right and stay grounded and play each game as it comes in the build-up to that potential final.

“It’s really positive and really pleasing and Simon Middleton has selected a squad with real balance, with some experienced players but also some new players, especially Zoe, who is a former U20s captain. It’s great that she’s going to play at her first World Cup. I think they are going to be looking strong going into the tournament.”

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