England Women v Scotland Women - Ellie Kildunne’s Keighley grounding set her up for England duty

Weekends growing up in Keighley were pretty routine for Ellie Kildunne.

Touching down: Ellie Kildunne scores England’s third try in the autumn international v France in 2020. (Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Touching down: Ellie Kildunne scores England’s third try in the autumn international v France in 2020. (Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Saturday she played rugby league for Keighley Albion and then on a Sunday she would play union for another local team known as Keighleyans.

This was life from the age of six to 14, and all of it played in the company of boys.

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“I didn’t play in an all girls team until I was 15,” says Kildunne, now 21. “I was always the only girl. There were a couple that came in an out, but they didn’t stick with it.

Kiehgley's Ellie Kildunne of England scores a try during the Old Mutual Wealth Series between England Women and Canada Women at Twickenham Stadium on November 25, 2017 in London, England. (Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images)

“But I loved it, I quite liked being the only girl. I liked proving the boys wrong, or stunning them. They’d start off thinking it’s just a girl, which is the classic line, and then by the end of the game I’d have changed their perception of me. I enjoyed that challenge.

“I’d try not to get caught. They often made the excuse of they didn’t want to tackle a girl, I’m not sure how true that would be.”

That grounding in both codes started the journey to where she finds herself today, back in Yorkshire and set to earn her 12th cap for the England women’s rugby union team as they embark on a truncated Six Nations campaign against Scotland at Doncaster’s Castle Park.

Kildunne has taken a circuitious route to this flying visit back to her home county, all in the name of becoming a professional rugby union player, a singular goal she has had since the age of 16.

Shannon Izar of France is tackled by Ellie Kildunne of England during the Cup semi-final match between England and France on day two of the HSBC Women's Rugby Sevens Kitakyushu at Mikuni World Stadium on April 21, 2019, in Japan. (Picture: Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

“I chose union because I also played union at school for the boys team, and my mum had heard of some Yorkshire girls trials and got me into them,” continues Kildunne.

“So from then on for me the pathway was on the union side.”

Inspired by taking part in a North of England school sports camp, the 16-year-old Kildunne told her parents she wanted to go to Hartpury College in Gloucester to continue her education and pursue her ambition of making rugby her living.

“It was definitely the right choice,” she reflects. “The south west was always stronger. Up north, league is definitely played by the majority, I wanted to be exposed to more players, different coaches and to put myself in the best place possible to take it forward as a career.”

Ellie Kildunne of England is tackled by Cyrielle Banet of France during the Autumn International match between England Women and France Women at Twickenham Stadium on November 21, 2020 in London. (Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

With 11 caps in the XV-a-side game, countless others for England Sevens and a full-time contract with Wasps in the Allianz Premiership behind her, it was certainly the right move.

Next on the agenda is consigning a season of niggling injuries to history to become a first-choice back for England Women’s head coach Simon Middleton.

There is also the small matter of the Women’s World Cup in the autumn of 2022, which had been postponed a year, much like this year’s Six Nations was pushed back a couple of months due to the latest coronavirus lockdowns.

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” confirms Kildunne of next year’s tournament in New Zealand.

England's Sarah Hunter (Picture: PA)

“We’ve got more time to prepare for it now, which gives us the opportunity to keep getting better.

“And the delaying of the Six Nations is a bit of a blessing in disguise. Initially it was annoying that they were being moved, but as it’s gone on we’ve got a little bit more exposure in the media and from that a lot more support on social media.”

Defending champions England go into this year’s revamped tournament, which sees six countries split into two pools playing two group games before a final on Saturday, April 24, as hot favourites.

The Red Roses have not lost a Six Nations match since France beat them in 2018.

“We need the competition to improve around us for the game to grow,” added Kildunne.

This is also the third successive tournament in which England have played a women’s Six Nations game at Castle Park, firmly establishing the Doncaster venue as their base in the north.

Doncaster’s commercial manager Michael Casey said: “We’re delighted to work alongside the England Rugby team again.

“We’re excited to bring another showcase international rugby fixture to the town.”

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