England captain Zoe Aldcroft on 2025 Rugby World Cup and the pathway she sparked at Scarborough RUFC

Zoe Aldcroft is the captain of England, a former world player of the year and a World Cup finalist - yet she has never forgotten her roots.

Last Friday night, the 27-year-old second-row forward was back where it all started for her at home club Scarborough RUFC, conducting coaching sessions and a Q&A in the clubhouse.

To say the patrons embraced their returning heroine and hung on her every word would be an understatement. For although it might have been a little different when she first started on her rugby journey, that path she has beaten to the very top during a period in which the women’s game in England has accelerated towards professionalism has left a blueprint to follow.

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“I remember being the only girl playing rugby at Scarborough when I was first there,” begins Aldcroft, looking back on her adolescent self.

Follow my lead: Zoe Aldcroft, left, with Steph Else in the background, takes girls and boys in a rugby session on her return to Scarborough RUFC last week.Follow my lead: Zoe Aldcroft, left, with Steph Else in the background, takes girls and boys in a rugby session on her return to Scarborough RUFC last week.
Follow my lead: Zoe Aldcroft, left, with Steph Else in the background, takes girls and boys in a rugby session on her return to Scarborough RUFC last week.

“But now to see so many young girls joining and playing rugby week in, week out is amazing.”

The fact Aldcroft had to move on from her hometown club and drive 70 miles to West Park Leeds to find competitive girls rugby when she was growing up prompted the Scarborough club to set up their own women’s section.

“We felt bad that she had to go somewhere else to fulfil her dreams,” Rob Hazledine, the director of women’s rugby, once told The Yorkshire Post.

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What was just one girl in Aldcroft has blossomed to more than 50, including a number of age-group teams and a senior team. And she is not alone now in having made the journey from Silver Royd to Twickenham, for Steph Else, a 20-year-old forward, has followed her path from Scarborough to club side Gloucester-Hartpury and now to the England squad.

Returning England stars Zoe Aldcroft, left, and Steph Else back at Scarborough RUFC.Returning England stars Zoe Aldcroft, left, and Steph Else back at Scarborough RUFC.
Returning England stars Zoe Aldcroft, left, and Steph Else back at Scarborough RUFC.

“It’s definitely a nice feeling coming back and seeing how much the girls section in Scarborough has grown,” says Aldcroft, for whom the adoration is mutual.

“They had a little watch party when the World Cup was on, plus the last couple of times we’ve had a Test match at Twickenham they’ve had a couple of busloads come down from Scarborough to watch.

“You can spot the Scarborough hoodies a mile off.”

To the impressionable young girls she is passing her knowledge onto, Aldcroft is an obvious role model. It is a position she takes pride in, before adding: “I don’t really think about being a role model too much but it is amazing that girls can actually look up to us now and realise there is a professional rugby union pathway,” says Aldcroft, one of 32 players contracted by England for the 2024/25 season this week.

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England captain Zoe Aldcroft conducts a training session on her return to Scarborough RUFC.England captain Zoe Aldcroft conducts a training session on her return to Scarborough RUFC.
England captain Zoe Aldcroft conducts a training session on her return to Scarborough RUFC.

Last year the Red Roses, in collaboration with the Rugby Players Association, agreed a three-season agreement up to June 2026 which included salaries, match fees, Rugby World Cup 2025 arrangements, commercial and community engagement initiatives. There were also eight further transition contracts handed out to help younger players on the verge of the England camp progress into professionalism. Aldcroft’s fellow Scarborough graduate Else was a recipient of one of those contracts this week.

“That wasn’t a thing when I was growing up,” continues Aldcroft. “So it’s amazing they’ve got that chance and role models to look up to.

“It shows these young girls at Scarborough and beyond that it’s possible.”

With opportunities now opening up, it’s down to the individuals to capitalise and a glimpse into Aldcroft’s mindset shows the mentality that is required to reach the heights she has done. In December 2021, after helping and then leading England to 18 unbeaten Test matches, she was named World Rugby’s Women’s XVs player of the year.

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Zoe Aldcroft and Steph Else, front row, with the Scarborough RUFC juniors they coached.Zoe Aldcroft and Steph Else, front row, with the Scarborough RUFC juniors they coached.
Zoe Aldcroft and Steph Else, front row, with the Scarborough RUFC juniors they coached.

Rather than dwelling on that achievement, she says: “I actually doubt myself a lot and that’s one of the reasons why I strive for better.

“I’ll never be happy with my performance, I’m really hard on myself and that drives me to go that bit harder.

“It’s almost like an anxious feeling, I kind of have a place for those feelings because it keeps me striving for more, keeps me wanting to get better and never accepting that this is as good as it’s going to get.

“There’s so much more to come. Women’s rugby is still very new to the world, there’s no limit yet, so in the Red Roses we’re setting that benchmark.”

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Next year is a huge one for women’s rugby. England hosts the 2025 World Cup and with group games to be held at the LNER Stadium in York - one of eight venues across the country and the only one in Yorkshire - international rugby is coming to the doorstep of where it all started for Aldcroft.

“Losing the World Cup final (to New Zealand in November 2022) was devastating,” recalls Aldcroft, “but it’s given us that extra motivation. We’ve got a home World Cup coming up, we’re not going to ease off at all, we’ve got a new head coach in John Mitchell who has come in and given us a new lease of life and it’s really exciting to be a part of.”

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