England Women v Canada: Rampant Roses reaping rewards of professional environment

It is hard to think of a better time to be a women’s rugby union player in England.

ZOE ALDCROFT: Is one of 28 female players on a central contract with the RFU. Picture: Getty Images.

A 15-team professional league at the top of the domestic game.

An England team on a 16-game winning run, their most recent victims the mighty New Zealand, who are both the World Cup holders and tournament hosts next year.

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Twenty-eight centrally contracted players to the Rugby Football Union, all developing rapidly under the umbrella of professionalism. And a bid in place to bring the Women’s Rugby World Cup to England in 2025.

INSPIRING A GENERATION: Zoe Aldcroft takes a picture with a young fan. Picture: Getty Images.

Zoe Aldcroft is very much in the middle of it, enjoying the trappings of professionalism, playing her part in the Red Roses period of domination and eyeing World Cup glory next year and three years beyond that.

The 24-year-old from Scarborough played in the second row as England thrashed New Zealand 56-15 at Franklin’s Gardens last Sunday and she retains her place in the No 4 jersey for the third and penultimate Autumn Internationals appointment against Canada at Twickenham Stoop tomorrow.

“It will help girls in England see that they can actually be professional players and make a living out of rugby,” says Aldcroft of the 2025 World Cup bid.

“That would be amazing to grow the sport in England. Hopefully I’ll be at the peak of my career and hopefully we’ll see a few games here in Yorkshire.”

The North Yorkshire coast is where it all began for Aldcroft, dragged along to her brother’s junior games and falling in love with the sport. She went to university and by the age of 20 was on the path to a full-time career with Gloucester-Hartpury, one of the established names in the 15-team professional league.

Aldcroft has been on the England pathway since 2017, and after battling injuries in those early years, is now reaping the benefits of consistency with her health.

It means she is ready for the challenge below her to take her place, and the challenge in front of her on the field.

“The competition throughout the whole country has developed so much and that has advanced the international game”, she says of the state of English women’s rugby union.

“Clubs are so much more professional now. I’m getting pushed all the time, but that’s a good thing for me because it means I have to work harder.

“It’s good for me to be able to help these players but also push me along as well.”

On England’s current form, she added: “We are just trying to build on every performance and hopefully we keep getting those wins. The last two weeks have been amazing but it’s down to how the girls have been committed in training, how fast we’ve learned in the last couple of weeks.

“We’re not under-estimating Canada, they’re a fit team and they’ll give us a good test, so we have to be on it for the full 80 minutes. But we just concenrate on ourselves, building on each performance.

“There were still parts of our game that we weren’t happy about, so this week we’ve worked on that in training.”