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Avenging painful France defeat would cap phenomenal season for Steph Else

By Martyn Thomas
GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 25: Gloucester-Hartpury's Steph Else in action during the Allianz PWR Womens Premership Round 2 match between Gloucester-Hartbury and Leicester Tigers women at Kingsholm Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

If there was a blot on Steph Else’s pristine 2023-24 copybook, then it came on a chastening April evening in Rouen.

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Two months before she helped Gloucester-Hartpury to Premiership Women’s Rugby final victory against Bristol Bears and was subsequently named the league’s Young Player of the Season, Else suffered a chastening experience in northern France.

Lining up at No8, Else was part of the England U20 Women team that conceded eight second-half tries to lose 74-0 to their French counterparts.

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It is the biggest defeat any England women’s team has ever suffered but as the sides prepare to renew hostilities at the Six Nations Women’s Summer Series in Parma this Sunday, she is confident her team-mates can avenge that tender loss.

“I think it’s our main focus,” Else told RugbyPass. “It’s been quite a big focus for quite a while now.

“I think a lot of us felt quite a lot of pain from the loss that we got back in Rouen, and I think it would mean a lot to come back with a win from that game.”

England have warmed up for their rematch with France by beating Ireland 33-10 and Wales 55-24 during the Summer Series, Else captaining the team for the second time in the latter match.

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The Gloucester-Hartpury No8 is confident the team has improved with each of those victories, and it is clear what a win on Sunday – only a second in the fixture at this level for England – would mean.

Asked whether revenge was a motivating factor ahead of the Summer Series finale, Else replied: “Yeah, definitely.

“[But] I think there are many of [the players] that are in the team now that weren’t out there in Rouen.

“I think it’s almost putting that in the past and taking confidence from the two games that we’ve had out here.

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“We are a really great team, and if we work together and we just keep nailing what we know we’re good at, and play our game rather than playing France’s game, then I think we’ll have a better day than we did.”

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Victory against France would certainly be a fitting way for Else to sign off from what has been a breakthrough season at club and international level.

Else played 13 times in the PWR last season as Gloucester-Hartpury retained their title, playing the final 11 minutes of the Sandy Park final against Bristol last month.

The PWR Young Player of the Season award duly followed, beating England flanker Sadia Kabeya and U20s teammate Reneeqa Bonner, among others, to the gong.

But her performances had already caught the attention of the senior England selectors. At the beginning of June, Else was one of eight players handed transition contracts with the Red Roses ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Looking back on a year that has gone “phenomenally”, Else says she owes Gloucester-Hartpury coach Sean Lynn for the faith he has shown in her.

“It’s been great for me,” she said. “I can’t really thank the people around me enough. I’ve had a lot of support from Gloucester, from my family, just everyone around me.

“And yeah, I think that’s probably the main reason why I’ve had the season that I’ve had.”

Else added: “Sean Lynn’s given me a lot of game time and he’s helped me a lot.

“And from that game time, I’ve then been able to be seen by more people and then that’s given me the opportunities that I’ve had, and I’ve just taken those opportunities and run with it.”

One new opportunity is the transition contract with England. “That was a bit of a surreal moment, really,” she reflected.

“I think it’ll just be [about] going into camps and stuff, getting probably a bit more comfortable around the people in those camps, so then hopefully, fingers crossed, one day I’ll be able to get capped.

“I think the support through nutrition, financially as well, I think that will really help me.”

Steph Else England quote

England U20s teammate Lilli Ives Campion has had a transition contract for a year already and has been on hand to offer advice about what Else can expect over the next 12 months.

And at Kingsholm she can also call on the support of several club-mates, seven of whom have full-time England contracts, while Mia Venner is also on the transition list.

“I’m quite close with a few of them and they’re really good in guiding me in the right direction,” Else said.

“I’ve got some great people to look up to. Zoe Aldcroft, she’s from the same club that I grew up at, so she’s always been an idol to me, really. She’s helped me a lot.

“Obviously, you’ve got Alex Matthews, Sarah Beckett and they just really push me to be a better player and keep my standards high as well in training so that when I then go into the game environment with them, I can, well, try and keep up with them!”

Does earning her transition contract give Else confidence that she can eventually follow in Aldcroft’s footsteps all the way from Scarborough to the Red Roses?

“Yeah, definitely,” the 20-year-old said. “Obviously, there’s a long way to go and I can’t take my foot off the gas really.

“But I think yeah, it definitely gives me a bit of hope that I can achieve the dream that I have.”

Working with England legend and transition coach Sarah Hunter over the next 12 months certainly won’t harm those ambitions.

And with Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 on the horizon, it would only be natural if Else became anxious for that dream to be realised sooner rather than later.

Not that she is in too much of a rush. “It’d be a great opportunity to even just be around the girls when they’re preparing for that,” Else said.

“Obviously, I feel like I’ve got a long way to go ‘till I’m probably ready for that. But if I get the opportunity then I’ll take it and yeah, we’ll see where I get.”

Women’s RWC 2025 may well come too soon for Else, but anyone who has witnessed her rise over the past 18 months certainly wouldn’t bet against her forcing her way into John Mitchell’s thinking.

The Women's Rugby World Cup 2025 is coming to England. Register now here to be the first to hear about tickets.

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Wonton 3 hours ago
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Nick 5 hours ago
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