Home Sports England v United States: Captain Zoe Aldcroft on her knitted Jonny Wilkinson

England v United States: Captain Zoe Aldcroft on her knitted Jonny Wilkinson

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A split picture of a knitted Jonny Wilkinson doll and Zoe Aldcroft
The Jonny Wilkinson doll was knitted for Zoe Aldcroft after she went to see him play for Toulon
Venue: Sixways Stadium, Worcester Date: Sunday, 21 November Kick-off: 14:45 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website and app, where there will be live text commentary.

After a week in which she has been named England captain and nominated for World Rugby’s Player of the Year award, it would be easy for Zoe Aldcroft to get carried away with herself.

Thankfully, she has something to keep her grounded: a small, knitted incarnation of England great Jonny Wilkinson.

Made for her by a friend’s grandmother when she first left home for Gloucester’s Hartpury College nine years ago, the doll is now an important feature in Aldcroft’s matchday routine.

The doll, of course, will be in the 25-year-old’s kit bag when she captains England for the first time against the United States in Worcester on Sunday.

“It’s just a little memento, a familiar thing,” she tells BBC Sport.

“So many things can change, but I don’t like to have a set routine.

“The kit is always different. The changing room is always different. The team is always different, but having this one consistent thing helps me relax.

“I just see him at the bottom of my bag. It’s kind of funny, but he’s there.”

‘I didn’t have a clue about World Player of the Year nominations’

Aldcroft jokes that she “can’t believe how famous” the doll has become and how frequently she is now asked about it.

But the mini Wilkinson seems to have served her well given her ascendance to England captain, with regular skipper Sarah Hunter on the bench and one-time leader Poppy Cleall out of the squad.

And on the back of her World Rugby Player of the Year nomination and 25th birthday on Friday, Aldcroft believes it has been “the best week of my life”.

The lock, who can also play in the back row, was not expecting the captaincy and “didn’t have a clue” the World Rugby nominations were even being announced on Monday.

“We were sat in our shirt presentation,” she recalls.

“I was thinking, ‘I wonder who that is?’ Then they said my name and I wasn’t expecting it. I was over the moon.”

‘Dance training made me springy’

Zoe Aldcroft wins a line-out
Aldcroft has played a key role in England’s dominant line-out this autumn

Aldcroft’s nomination may have shocked her, but it is hardly surprising given the key role she has played in England’s impressive 17-Test winning run.

An influential player in a third successive 2021 Women’s Six Nations win, the Scarborough-born forward is one of only two players in England’s team to have started every game in a dominant autumn series.

First helping the Red Roses to convincing back-to-back victories against five-time world champions New Zealand, Aldcroft was part of last weekend’s 51-12 win against Canada.

England have particularly dominated in the line-out – an improved tool for the world number one side after the arrival of forwards coach Louis Deacon in August.

“The tempo we use in that line-out is next level,” Aldcroft says.

“At the moment teams are finding it hard to defend against us. It’s a big thing we have been working on.”

Aldcroft believes the hard work of her team-mates in learning key moves has been paramount to their success, but a hidden talent picked up in childhood may also be proving profitable for her own performances.

She studied dance – ballet, tap and disco – for 11 years from the age of four, a hobby which “made me springy”.

“It gave me a good memory of sequences, so it could have impacted,” she continued. “I am actually a terrible dancer.”

‘A World Cup win could do amazing things’

Plenty has changed for Aldcroft over the last year due to her success, but her Wilkinson doll has not.

It remains a source of amusement and could also be a source of inspiration with less than a year to go until the next World Cup.

England finished runners-up at the 2017 World Cup and Aldcroft admits: “The impact of getting to the final has been massive for English rugby for women.

“If we did win the World Cup next year, well the thought of what that could do for women’s rugby in England is amazing.”

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