FOR ONCE, Zoe Aldcroft may feel a little closer to home when she pulls on the England jersey again tomorrow.
Granted, Doncaster Knights’ Castle Park – where the Red Roses face Canada in the second of their autumn Quilter Internationals – is still some distance from Scarborough where she grew up.
However, given this is the first England Women’s game that has ventured so far north from their usual Twickenham base, just returning to the Broad Acres is something the Gloucester-Hartpury lock is relishing.
The RFU is taking games ‘on the road’ to try and help expand women’s rugby, to not only reach new audiences but also further inspire potential new players.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Aldcroft admitted: “It’s massive. I think we’re going to get a lot of local support from the clubs around here and with it being in the north, I think it is a really big thing for Yorkshire.
“From when I was playing back in Scarborough, I can’t say I ever saw this coming – the men are only just doing it taking a game from Twickenham to Newcastle next year – but it is great.”
As of last night, 3,500 tickets had been sold for the fixture (2pm kick-off) and there will be matchday admission tomorrow as the governing body and hosts Doncaster bid to near the ground’s 5,000 capacity. It is a sign of the sport’s growing appeal (England return Doncaster to face France in the Women’s Six Nations on February 10) and a far cry from when Aldcroft first started playing as a youngster.
“I got into it mainly through my brother,” she recalled.
“I just used to go down and watch him at Scarborough on Sunday mornings and I thought I may as well get involved myself.
“It’s the same story for quite a lot of the girls and it just progressed from there really.
From when I was playing back in Scarborough, I can’t say I ever saw this coming.Zoe Aldcroft
“But I was the only girl playing at Scarborough and they didn’t actually set up a girls’ team until about two or three years ago.
“So, I had to travel to West Park Leeds to play in the girls team there.
“To be representing my country here now is amazing; back then, when you’re that young, you’re not really thinking anything about playing for England.
“But as things progressed it became more and more real. And it is a great opportunity.”
Aldcroft, 21, partnered Harlequins’ Abbie Scott in the second-row at Allianz Park during England’s convincing 57-5 win over USA Women last week.
However, she drops down to the bench tomorrow as one of 11 changes made by head coach Simon Middleton, the former Castleford Tigers winger and Leeds Tykes assistant who also hails from Yorkshire.
What can any new fan who comes to watch the game tomorrow expect to see?
“I think they’ll be surprised,” she said. “I think it will be quite a physical game. Hopefully we’ll show our skills – what we can do – and hopefully we’ll be able to get the game won for everyone
“Canada are physical and we’re expecting the full 80 from them but we’re looking forward to it.”
Aldcroft – who started out aged nine – made her England debut against the USA in Salt Lake City in July 2016.
She featured in the World Cup in Ireland last summer, bravely playing on through the tournament with a broken bone in her foot which eventually saw her miss a year of action including the inaugural season of the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
There is, of course, no Yorkshire side in that competition, something Aldcroft hopes will eventually be remedied with events like tomorrow’s Test match helping to spark something in her home county.
“I’d definitely like to see that happen,” she added.
“We’ve got Darlington Mowden Park further in the north and Firwood Waterloo (Lancashire) but we definitely need to see a side in Yorkshire with it being the biggest county. I’d like to see that in the future and hopefully we can attract new fans and players.”
As well as sweeping aside Canada, Aldcroft hopes to secure a full-time deal with the RFU with central contracts set to be re-introduced in January.
“I think all the girls are putting in all their efforts to try and earn those contracts,” added the player. “At the moment, I’m a student at Hartpury College. I’m doing sport and exercise science but don’t actually want to pursue it – I want to be a property developer.”
Aldcroft is getting in some practice; women’s rugby is increasingly big property and she’s helping to develop it very nicely.
Weekend Interview with Simon Middleton: Page 10