- England Rugby Podcast: Packer talks plumbing and hot tubs
- England Women National Academy beaten by USA
- Buy tickets for the Red Roses game in Doncaster here
As England take on Canada at Castle Park for their second of three Quilter Internationals, Yorkshire-born second row Zoe Aldcroft speaks of the importance of taking the Red Roses to the North and how her rugby journey began at Scarborough RFC - she sat down with Telegraph journalist Kate Rowan.
Working in her parent’s café on the Scarborough sea front, little did a young teenage Zoe Aldcroft know that just a few years later, not only would she be lining out for the Red Roses but that she would also be part of a Test match in her home county of Yorkshire here at Doncaster’s Castle Park.
As England line up against Canada, there will be a particularly vocal pocket of supporters who will have made the journey 70 miles south from Scarborough including Aldcroft’s parents Roz, Dave and brother Jonathan.
The powerful lock, who partnered Harlequins’ Abbie Scott in the second row at Allianz Park last week during England’s convincing 57-5 win over USA Women, is excited at the prospect of playing so close to home. “It is a pretty big thing getting to go home and play, I have never played a big game in Yorkshire or in the north before,” she said.
As with many of her fellow Red Roses, 21-year-old Aldcroft’s rugby journey began as a frustrated youngster on the side lines watching older brother Jonathan at Scarborough RFC, where their father Dave was a keen player. Aldcroft decided to join in age nine as the only girl on the team.
With a laugh she recalls, “I played at full back or wing back then and I think I held my own with the boys pretty well. Most of them passed me the ball although my brother who was number 10 probably didn’t!”
In the Aldcroft family, it is now Zoe who holds the bragging rights over Jonathan, today working as a geologist, whose rugby career stalled at Scarborough while his younger sister already has a World Cup appearance under her belt.
After scoring the winning try in her England debut against the USA in Salt Lake City in July 2016, the future looked very bright for the sports and exercise science student, particularly as she packed her bags for the World Cup in Ireland last summer. Unfortunately after she broke the navicular bone in her foot, things did not go quite to plan for Aldcroft, who despite playing through the tournament with the injury, was sidelined for from the game for a year, including the inaugural season of the Tyrrells Premier 15s, where Aldcroft’s club side Gloucester-Hartpury Women made the play-offs.
“The time off from rugby was difficult because it is boring to stand on the side line all the time,” she said.
“To cope I took myself out of rugby completely, I didn’t watch any rugby. I just did my own training, I took myself away from the team environment because obviously if you involve yourself too much then you feel a part of it right up until they go on the pitch and then you don’t feel great when you realise you actually aren’t involved.”
So, she particularly relished her return to action this season and credits both her team mates at club and country level for helping to get her back into the right head space, “I think it was quite easy to come back in because you have got all your team mates to build up your spirit – I had pretty good support from the medical side to get me back in.
One team mate who Aldcroft particularly looks up to is fellow second row Abbie Scott, also hailing from the north of England, as the 25-year-old grew up in Cumbria’s Lake District, “Abbie is very direct, she knows what she is doing, she is a good mentor, I look forward to working with her."
England head coach Simon Middleton has been excited by Aldcroft’s return to action this season and sees her very much as part of England’s plans as they use the Quilter Internationals as a first step towards the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup, “We’ve got players who’ve gone through the World Cup cycle like Zoe who are still very young in terms of their rugby life,” he said.
“She was fantastic for us in the World Cup – she had that year out through injury but has been playing fantastically for Gloucester-Hartpury.”
God's own country
Middleton also hails from Yorkshire, from Knottingley, and as well as having fond memories of playing as an amateur at Castle Park, he sees the Test as an important opportunity to get more involved in the women’s game.
“I played at Castle Park when I was an amateur, when there was just a little wood house," he said. "It will be fantastic, it will be great to get a game into Yorkshire, it is such a big rugby union strong hold. "This game is going to help get people excited about women’s rugby.”
“What it lacks is both Premiership sides for men and women for whatever reason. I think it has more rugby union clubs than in any other county and I know people will come out and support in their droves. Having spoken to the people in local clubs, they can’t wait.”
Aldcroft also sees the fixture as an important moment for attracting women and girls into rugby, “Women’s and girls’ rugby in Yorkshire is definitely growing. When I was young, there weren’t as many opportunities for girls, as I progressed to Under 15s and Under 18s, they were able to get a full team of XV out.
“It has definitely developed, Scarborough have set up a women’s and girls’ teams. This game is going to help get people excited about women’s rugby.”
Castle Park will also host the Red Roses much anticipated Six Nations fixture against Grand Slam holders France on Sunday 10 February.
However, before that the side play their final Test of the Quilter Internationals against Ireland next Saturday, returning to more familiar surroundings as they play at Twickenham Stadium after the men’s fixture against Australia.