Zoe Aldcroft goes from no game in Scarborough to an England international inspiring the next generation

WHEN NO local rugby team had a place for her, England international Zoe Aldcroft used to travel 70 miles every Sunday just to play the sport she loved.

The Scarborough-born player first picked up a rugby ball at her hometown club, aged nine, becoming the first and only girl in her age group.

When she turned 12, she was told she could no longer play in the boys’ team, meaning she found one of the closest girls’ teams, at West Park Leeds, a trip that took an hour and a half every weekend.

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From there the now 23-year-old quickly showed her potential as she soon represented Yorkshire Under-15s and later joined the England Under-20s side.

Zoe Aldcroft of England Women passes the ball during an England Women Training Session ahead of their Women's Six Nations match against Ireland. (Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images)

She made her full international debut in Salt Lake City, Utah coming off the bench and scoring the winning try in a victory over France in 2016.

In 2019, Aldcroft became one of the first players to be offered a full-time professional contract by England. She missed last season’s Six Nations through injury but returned for the 2019 Super Series in San Diego and was offered another full-time contract.

Aldcroft didn’t have any role models in her sport to look up to in her youth but hopes that more girls will start lacing up their boots with the England Women’s side growing in stature.

“When I was playing at Scarborough I didn’t really have any ambition to play for England and didn’t even think there was a women’s team to be honest,” said Aldcroft who has also played for Malton girls, Hartpury College and Mowden Park.

England's women celebrates after Kelly Smith scored a try during the Women's Six Nations match at Castle Park, Doncaster. (Picture: PA)

“It is amazing now that I am here as a professional player, I never thought about it when I was playing as a little girl.

“It is so good to see girls playing and even getting messages from little girls to see how they are doing.

“I wouldn’t say I had female role models in rugby but there were other women in sport that I watched quite a lot growing up.

“Serena Williams and Jess Ennis were really big when I was growing up and it was good to see that women could actually be playing at the top levels of their sport.”

Zoe Aldcroft at Scarborough RUFC. (Picture: Richard Ponter)

Scarborough now have a number of women’s teams at senior and junior level and Aldcroft continued: “When I got to Under-12s I wasn’t allowed to play with the boys anymore.

“I had to travel over to West Park Leeds and played there for a few seasons.

“I lived in Scarborough, so it was an hour and a half to get from Scarborough to Leeds every Sunday. We used to play in Manchester and other places around the north so it was a lot of travelling.”

The Scarborough-born player will earn her 19th international cap in tomorrow’s Six Nations clash with Ireland, which will be played at Doncaster Knights’ Castle Park.

England first played at the south Yorkshire club’s home ground in November 2018, winning 27-19 against Canada in front of 3,800 supporters.

They returned again in early 2019, with a bigger crowd watching on as they beat France on their way to the Grand Slam.

This time, tickets have sold out in advance and Aldcroft feels that is evidence of the rapid growth of the women’s game.

“I am looking forward to being back in Doncaster, I didn’t get to play last year so I am excited to get out there and play against Ireland,” she said.

“I played in the Canada game a couple of autumns ago.

“It was really nice to have friends and family there.

“It is really good to see how quick the women’s game is growing, especially in the north because it is quite a rugby league and football-dominated area.

“It is really good to get a big home crowd.”

Aldcroft was as surprised as anyone when she made her England debut across the Atlantic in 2016.

When selected, she was told she would be going as a water carrier but made the most of her opportunity and has not looked back.

She said: “I was so nervous because I didn’t even expect to go on tour. I was told that I was going to go and be a water girl. So it was really good just to get there.

“For the second game they told me I was going to be on the bench and then I came on in the last five minutes and got a try. It was ‘mental’.”

Aldcroft’s, and England’s, attentions are currently fixed on winning back-to-back Six Nations titles but one eye is starting to turn toward the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Next autumn’s hosts took the title from England in the 2017 tournament in Ireland, winning the final 41-32.

Aldcroft broke a bone in her foot during the competition but played through the pain. However, that injury forced her to miss a large part of 2018.

“I think everyone’s ambition is to bring back the World Cup trophy,” said Aldcroft.

“That is what we are working for now and every session day in, day out is building towards that.

“We have always got to have that ambition to win the World Cup.”

She added: “I think it is really important that each nations buys into their women’s team, to help grow rugby around the world and give more competition.

“It helps drive the professional standards throughout every team.”

Aldcroft plays her club rugby with Gloucester-Hartputy Women, one of 10 teams which make up the Tyrrells Premier 15s.

The England lock feels that the introduction of the competition in 2018 has helped to improve the national side, alongside the decision to make the women’s team full-time.

“I think the league has really helped. England has one of the strongest infrastructures put in place for the women’s side,” she said.

“We get a lot of people coming over from different countries to come and play here, which is also helping their nations.

“It is really good for the pathway into England and gives coaches the chance to see players coming through.”

Tomorrow’s clash in Doncaster sees the only two unbeaten sides in this year’s Six Nations go head to head and an England victory is likely to all-but seal a record-breaking 16th title.

Aldcroft added: “I think all the teams across the Six Nations have improved, but especially Ireland.

“They were strong a couple of years ago and had a little dip but they are getting back up there.

“It will be a really good competition between us and Ireland because we both have two wins. We are just taking each game as it comes.

“We had an awful week of weather so hopefully we will be ready for any conditions that come our way on Sunday.”