Hartpury University students have made sporting history after being awarded professional contracts to play rugby for England Women.
For the first time, the Rugby Football Union has awarded full-time deals to 28 women playing 15-a-side rugby for England Women in a move aimed at improving their chances of winning the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
The illustrious list includes Hartpury students Kelly Smith, who is studying a BSc (Hons) degree in Physical Education and School Sport, and Zoe Aldcroft, who is studying a BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Sciences degree.
Their Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC team-mates Tatyana Heard, who studied a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sport (Performance and Excellence) Rugby at Hartpury College, and 2014 World Cup winner Natasha Hunt have also received full-time contracts.
Susie Appleby, Hartpury Senior Women’s Rugby Academy Manager and Head Coach of Gloucester-Hartpury, said: “We’re incredibly proud of our students and players whose names will now be associated forever with a landmark development for women’s rugby in England.
“As one of the leading education institutions for sport, we’re committed to ensuring our students have access to superb facilities and coaches to give them the best possible chance of fulfilling their potential.
“We look forward to providing Kelly and Zoe with all the support they require to fulfil their commitments to England alongside their academic studies at Hartpury.”
Students at Hartpury, training base of Premiership club Gloucester Rugby, have access to a range of world class-facilities.
Hartpury’s new £8.8 million Sports Academy includes a biomechanics laboratory featuring among the the only high-resolution digital mirrors in the UK, a rehabilitation suite featuring an anti-gravity treadmill, and a human performance laboratory with an altitude chamber, and a sports hall.
Kelly, Zoe, Tatyana and Natasha were awarded their full-time contracts after being announced as part of the 2019 England Elite Player Squad.
England Women's head coach Simon Middleton said: “I am confident that this group of players has the potential to grow into the world-class squad we will be looking to take to New Zealand in 2021.
“The introduction of full-time contracts will take time to embed but will unquestionably help us to accelerate the development process.”
Picture: Zoe Aldcroft at Hartpury (courtesy of Martin Bennett/Gloucester Rugby)