Zoe Aldcroft, Tatyana Heard, Mo Hunt and Kelly Smith of Gloucester-Hartpury Women were amongst 28 players recently to be named in the 2019 England Women EPS squad and to be awarded full-time contracts.

All four were in England training camp last week, and we caught up with them all to chat about the momentous announcement and what it means to them all.

First up was Zoe Aldcroft, already an England international, who has been captaining Gloucester-Hartpury this season having sat out the 2017-18 season with injury.

Zoe Aldcroft © Martin Bennett/ Gloucester Rugby

She admits she’s re-captured her love of the game this season, and that her return to the international ranks is a real bonus especially as she feels her time as Gloucester-Hartpury captain has seen her grow as a person and player.

“I’m really delighted. I love getting out there and playing for Gloucester-Hartpury in the Tyrrells Premier 15s. Having missed out last season, I’m just enjoying myself, making up for lost time and getting back to where I was as a player before the injury.

“I think it’s definitely helped to grow my confidence. When I come into England camp, for example, I’m more comfortable stepping forward and speaking up and I think that’s come from my role as captain at Gloucester-Hartpury. I also feel I’m doing more around the pitch as a player and contributing more.

“It’s certainly going to change my life, it’s a full-time job now. We’ll be able to train more which can only help us as players and mean that we can contribute even more at club and international level.

“But there’s also an element of responsibility as well. We want to help grow the game, particularly with another World Cup on the horizon, and encourage more young girls to take up the game and hopefully also become professionals and represent their country.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Smith’s incredible 2018-19 season goes from strength to strength. In her second season in Gloucester-Hartpury colours, she’s currently the top try scorer in the Tyrrells Premier 15s and maintained this form in the Quilter internationals.

Kelly was previously an England Sevens international and returned to the club game for the 2017-18 season. But she explained that representing her country at 15s level was always a goal.

“It was always a dream, something dating back to when I first started playing the game. I was a setback when I was told that I wasn’t going to be offered anything at Sevens level, and it did knock my confidence a little bit.

“It’s all about not giving up. It’d be very easy to think that you’re not good enough after a knockback. But I’ve worked hard, the hours behind the scenes in training and in the gym, and the hard work, combined with determination, is the key.

“I also think that going out every weekend and playing for Gloucester-Hartpury, the support that I got playing in a great club environment, really helped me to get my self-belief back and allow me to play to the best of my ability.

“We play an expansive style of rugby at Gloucester-Hartpury, one that sees the wingers get plenty of ball, and that’s helped me to get noticed and receive the international recognition.”

Kelly acknowledges that there will be differences between the 7s and 15s programmes, but can’t wait to embrace the new challenge.

“It’s still pulling on the England shirt and representing your country. But the Sevens programme obviously involves a lot of travel and being away from home. We’ll have training camps moving forward, and we’ll be able to develop as a group and prepare for games and I’m really looking forward to it.

“It’s going to allow me to focus on the areas where I need to improve as a player. I’ll be able to put in the extra work and not having to worry about fitting in my training around the other areas of my life.

“Just as important, will be the opportunity to recover properly. When you’re working or studying as well as training, then getting the right amount of recovery time in is difficult and that can mean you’re not playing at 100%. We can now get the balance right.

“I’m unbelievably excited, I can’t wait. We’re going to prepare now for the Six Nations and hopefully put in some good performances.”