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England’s Zoe Aldcroft: ‘We are putting ourselves on the edge and taking risks’
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England’s Zoe Aldcroft: ‘We are putting ourselves on the edge and taking risks’

The England lock Zoe Aldcroft calls for the ball as soon as she sees Sarah Beckett has punctured the France defence. The forward offloads to Aldcroft, who beats Émilie Boulard to weave her way to the line for England’s fifth try in the first half in their grand slam‑winning match at Twickenham 12 months ago. The subsequent wall of crowd noise is what Aldcroft remembers most on a day that broke the world attendance record for a women’s rugby game.

The score went on to be nominated for World Rugby’s try of the year and it is clear to see why. It was a fluid and fast-paced attack, with its buildup involving 18 passes and five rucks. Aldcroft, who ultimately lost out on the try award to Italy’s Sofia Stefan, is hunting that roar from fans once again on Saturday as the Red Roses take on Ireland at the home of English rugby.

“Obviously that was one of the most special games I have played,” Aldcroft says. “The record crowd at Twickenham was unbelievable to be a part of. I think just the whole occasion was special in itself. I just remember the roar of the crowd [when I scored], it was super loud.

“It is something else. You get that extra buzz, you want to give it that extra little bit. It is just amazing to have so many people in the crowd. It’s unbelievable. At the end we were taking a walk around and taking in everyone being there, all the young girls and young families. It was just amazing to see where the sport had come because we had been used to maybe a few thousand people [in the stands] and then to have 58,000 people there roaring for England was absolutely unbelievable.”

Aldcroft will be welcomed back to Twickenham by more than 47,000 fans on Saturday. The deafening cheers she experienced last year are likely to be heard again, with England favourites thanks to their results so far. The Red Roses have been dominant, securing three bonus-point wins to sail to the top of the table. In the process they have scored 140 points and conceded only 10. The results have been the perfect start to John Mitchell’s era as head coach but there is one area that has not gone quite to plan – discipline.

Beckett, the No 8, was shown the red card in their opener against Italy and banned for three games. The hooker Amy Cokayne received a red card after two yellow card offences against Scotland, which resulted in a one-game ban. Aldcroft says the discipline challenges come with their new attacking style.

England’s head coach, John Mitchell, chats to Zoe Harrison during a training session at Twickenham.View image in fullscreen

“We are trying to work on our discipline, it is not something we want going into a game,” the 27-year-old adds. “We are putting ourselves on the edge and we’re taking risks so that is kind of something that comes with our new gameplan and how we want to play. It is definitely something we have in mind and something we are going to work on for future games.

“We do want to front up and we want to take the risk but obviously we don’t want to put ourselves in a deficit by getting carded at the same time. Hopefully as our game grows we will be able to combat that.”

Their improvement in the area will be on display at Twickenham, where Ireland look to upset the party. They come into the match with winning momentum after demolishing Wales 36-5. Aoife Wafer and Aoibheann Reilly shone in the bonus-point result which lifted Ireland up the table into third, a target for the team set out by their new head coach, Scott Bemand, before the tournament.

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Bemand, formerly England’s attack coach, is looking to disrupt the side with which he won several Women’s Six Nations titles but it will be difficult for Ireland. The team have not beaten England since 2015 or scored a point against them since 2019, although the Red Roses have been a professional outfit for five years while the Irish Rugby Football Union introduced professional contracts only in 2022

An England win could tee up a grand slam decider with France next week, provided Les Bleues beat Wales on Sunday. Ireland will do what they can but the Red Roses’ last loss in the Women’s Six Nations was in 2018. Is there a better stage for Ireland to mute thousands of England fans than Twickenham? Probably not. But Aldcroft and England will aim to keep the crowd roaring.

Source: theguardian.com