The Sky Is The Limit! We catch up with Red Roses flying fullback Ellie Kildunne
This autumn has been all about experimentation for the Red Roses, with new players being brought in and new combinations tried out but there has been one ever present…Since returning from the Sevens programme Ellie Kildunne has grabbed hold of the 15 shirt and showed no inclination to let it go!
It’s early evening, after a tough days training when I catch up with Ellie and apparently the session today was a tough one, but I get the sense that it’s said with a smile, if I’ve learned one thing from our short conversation it’s that this young lady relishes a challenge!
Those challenges have taken her from an emerging talent on the domestic rugby scene, into the England 15s squad and then off to being a key piece in the sevens set up before removal of funding saw Ellie and her colleagues return to the fifteen-a-side format. If you watched her debut for Wasps it was as if she’d never been away, she cut through the Harlequins defence as if they were a bunch of cardboard cutouts!
Kildunne credits the people around her for making the transition as smooth as possible. “I’ve enjoyed having a new team, new people around me. That’s allowed me to learn off them each game, to better myself and to better my connections with other players. I’m in a rush to become the best player I can be and I’ve got the right people around me to help achieve that!”
Whether that’s her teammates at Wasps and in the Red Roses, her fellow sevens players or coaches like Giselle Mather and Simon Middleton, Ellie seems determined to absorb all that she can to be the best player she can be.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us to grow!” Ellie tells me when I ask about preparing to face a team you’ve just beaten. “You play France one week and it’s a challenge, but then you have a change to write the wrong and tighten the screws for the next game. It’s really good to be able to do that against one of the top teams.”
So lots of opportunities to push on and improve, but what exactly are the team focusing on? “Overall we had a good performance but we’re looking to up the intensity. Making sure we have hard shoulders and don’t let soft tackles happen. Overall it’s just refining the small things that were already going well and finding the opportunities to make them even better!”
When she first started out, Ellie was the only girl on a team of boys, but was very quickly a standout player, a few years later and here she is burning up the field on the biggest stage of all. To play at Twickenham is a dream for every player and although she has appeared here before, both in sevens and against Canada for the Red Roses, it’s clearly still a thrill to anticipate running out again. The big difference this time is that there are no fans in the stands of course. But for the second week in a row the match against France will go out live on BBC Two. “I think it’s vital that games are on television. We’ve gone from streams and Facebook live, to highlights on Sky, to now being on free to view and it gives an opportunity for everyone to watch the game. Little girls, and little boys, can sit down and watch with their families and hopefully we can become role models for them. So, yeah it really is cool that BBC are putting us out there for everyone to see!”
For all that Ellie’s star is on the rise in union, there is every chance that the sevens teams will be reinstated next year ahead of the Olympics so I’m intrigued to find out whether she is eyeing that opportunity or more focused on the chance to go to the World Cup? I shouldn’t be surprised when her answer is far more down to earth. “I think if you look too far ahead you lose sight of whats happening right now. Yes I want to be involved in the Wrold Cup at some point and of course I want to be involved with the Olympics at some point too. They’re the pinnacles of the game and I’d be silly not to have goals like that but I can only get there by being the best player I can be! I do that by focusing on the training session that I had today, on the captains run in a couple of days and on the big game ahead this weekend. After that my focus goes back to Wasps and after that… It goes on, but you can only write so much of the story at a time.”
We finish up by looking back at Ellie’s last time out on the Twickenham pitch as a Red Rose. “Last time I played there I got a yellow card and the crowd sang a song, something like “Don’t cry Ellie”. I managed to score though, so I managed to right my wrongs,” The odds are good that she’ll get on the scoresheet again this weekend, but hopefully we’ll be singing from our sofa about that, rather than a trip to the sin bin!