Kildunne relishing chance to test her game against France again

Sportsbeat
·4-min read
England's Ellie Kildunne breaks through to score their fourth try (Action Images/John Sibley)
England's Ellie Kildunne breaks through to score their fourth try (Action Images/John Sibley)

England flyer Ellie Kildunne led the post-match karaoke after the Red Roses climbed to number one in the world with a 33-10 victory in France last Saturday.

And she hopes it will be a case of sing when you’re winning once more this weekend as Simon Middleton’s side look to end 2020 on a high against the same opposition.

The two sides have become familiar foes in recent years while competing for Women’s Six Nations glory and have also been drawn in the same group for next year’s World Cup.

That adds an extra psychological edge to this two-match series, which England are aiming to wrap up as they kick off a double header at Twickenham prior to the men taking on Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup.

“These games are a fantastic opportunity as France are one of the best teams in the world, and you don’t always get the chance to play the best sides,” said the 21-year-old.

“It’s always good to be challenged as you find parts of your game you might not have explored before. Last week, for example – I have never kicked that much in a game.

“I now feel I’ve found that part of my game a bit more and I’ve continued to practice so I can identify when to kick, when not to kick and the spaces to aim for.

“Playing in tough games improves you because it’s uncomfortable and challenging, which is when you stretch yourself and find a bit of fight in you to come out on top.”

The game itself was not the only potentially uncomfortable and challenging task for Kildunne, who had agreed with teammate Detysha Harper to put on a post-match performance to celebrate.

“We do this mash-up of Jessie J’s Price Tag and Where is the Love by Black Eyed Peas,” she said.

“It started years ago when we were in an Under-18s camp and this week we thought ‘shall we just do it?’.

“We must have been practicing for about three hours and we told all the girls we were going to do it. We expected about five people, but everyone showed up and suddenly I wasn’t so confident!

“But before long everyone was up singing and dancing. We had a great night. There is a really nice culture in the squad and it’s an enjoyable place to be.”

Kildunne is one of several players finding her feet again in the 15-a-side game having switched from Sevens, which saw its funding slashed by the RFU amid the Covid-enforced cutbacks.

It did not take long for the full-back to get back into the groove – she crossed four minutes in to the 54-0 victory in Italy which sealed a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam – and Kildunne paid tribute to England’s coaching staff for aiding the transition.

“To begin with, I found it pretty difficult,” she said. “But playing full-back has been good because it’s broken field I’m working with, which is similar to Sevens, and I am learning so much about myself, the game and those around me through every match I play.

“I wouldn’t say it’s getting easier but it’s getting smoother as the season goes on, which is a credit to the coaches.”

This series has also offered an opportunity for the Red Roses to connect with a wider audience, with the games broadcast live on BBC Two, and the impact has not been lost on Kildunne.

“Before the game, my old school mates were all messaging me and I even had old teachers wishing me luck,” she said.

“It was really special to know that even with no-one in the crowd, we felt like we had the whole of England behind us as everyone was able to watch it.

“It helped that it was a fantastic game to watch. My boyfriend’s dad, who has watched his sons grow up playing rugby, said it was one of the best games he has ever seen.

“Little things like that are incredible and the exposure will only help others have the same opinion. It’s fundamental to have role models and people you can look up to and associate with.

“If young girls relate to me, it all becomes achievable. I’m not a superhero because I play for England, I’m just another girl like they are. They can strive to do the same.”