Zoe Aldcroft combining superstition and athleticism to hit the heights

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Zoe Aldcroft will face France again less than a week after helping England beat Les Bleues in the Women's Six Nations final. REUTERS/Paul Childs
Zoe Aldcroft will face France again less than a week after helping England beat Les Bleues in the Women's Six Nations final. REUTERS/Paul Childs
Zoe Aldcroft will face France again less than a week after helping England beat Les Bleues in the Women's Six Nations final. REUTERS/Paul Childs
Zoe Aldcroft will face France again less than a week after helping England beat Les Bleues in the Women's Six Nations final. REUTERS/Paul Childs

England rugby star Zoe Aldcroft isn't superstitious, exactly, but she does make sure a knitted Jonny Wilkinson doll is always in her kit bag.

Plus, if she puts something on the wrong way, she has to keep it like that the whole day. And she always, always salutes solo magpies.

Ok, maybe the Women's Six Nations champion, who clinched a third straight title with the Red Roses last Saturday, is a little bit superstitious.

But whether as a result of magic or sheer athletic brilliance - and with Aldcroft it could be both -something seems to be working for the 24-year-old, who earned Player of the Match honours for her tremendous effort in the Red Roses' 10-6 victory over France in the final.  

"My [older] brother actually cried when the final whistle went," she said. 

"He never, ever cries, and he actually cried, so I think that was the best reaction. 

"I think it's because I've had another year out with injury, and then obviously I've come back and I've got Player of the Match, so I think that set him off as well." 

That honour, and a nod for Player of The Championship (Aldcroft was edged out by teammate Poppy Cleall), do carry weight for the lock, who was looking forward to facing the French squad again in a friendly across the Channel on Friday night.  

Aldcroft said: "It means a lot. It means the hard work you put in is reflecting.  

"I'm not saying the whole team doesn't work hard and stuff, but just, individually, you've done everything that you can on that pitch for your team to deserve that award. So it's just incredible." 

Aldcroft will earn her 24th cap when she steps onto the pitch at Villeneuve d'Ascq in Lille. 

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She earned her first against Les Bleues in 2016, when she emerged from the bench for the final four minutes in Salt Lake City and scored the winning try. 

The Scarborough native was thrilled to make a contribution but glory was far from the forefront of her mind as she sat among the replacements that day. 

"I was just so nervous," she recalled. "I was like, 'just don't mess up the lineout, just don't mess up the lineout, just don't mess up the lineout'. 

"Because I used to think that was the hardest part of the game. And then when I went on it was against France, and it was an absolutely massive blur.

"And then I got over for the winning try, which was incredible, really. Then I was just like, 'Oh my god, I love this job.'" 

Red Roses development players Merryn Doidge and Flo Robinson, who were named amongst Friday's replacements by head coach Simon Middleton, might make their England debuts this weekend - and could certainly do worse for a mentor. 

Aldcroft wasn't always a reliable force in the biggest moments however and she freely admits that learning to be so was a skill she only developed over time.  

She said: "My advice to [Merryn and Flo] would be to go out and enjoy it, and don't get too caught up in your own performance.  

"Because I think the more relaxed you are, the better that you perform." 

And maybe pack a good luck charm? 

"This is a bit silly," Aldcroft confessed. "I've got a little, tiny Jonny Wilkinson knitted doll. My friend's gran knitted it for me when I first started playing, when I was an under-20, and every game I just have it in the bottom of my bag.  

"I never get it out or anything, I just have it in the bottom of my bag. But I always take [him] with me."

Sportsbeat 2021