Rugby Star Ellie Kildunne on Olympic Ambitions

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Keighley’s England rugby star Ellie Kildunne on Olympic ambitions and why heartbreak has ignited her unwavering hunger to win.

Ellie Kildunne is a force to be reckoned with. At the age of 24, the tenacious Red Roses fullback, who can also play wing, started out in rugby league at Keighley Rugby Union Football Club in rural West Yorkshire. Today she is fighting fit and flying high at the top of her game.


The quote ‘lukewarm is no good’ – a phrase coined by author Roald Dahl – is a tagline on her Instagram biography and one that’s embedded in her psyche. “It’s kind of stuck with me for a while,” she explains. “It’s not something I remind myself of – it’s ingrained in my chemistry to go for things. If I want something to happen, then I’ve just got to throw myself into it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but you’ll never know if you don’t jump.”

Growing up in a rural setting Ellie found herself playing outdoors and “tagging along”, aged six, to a rugby club with her neighbours. She recalls fond memories of walks near Ilkley in Yorkshire with her family and the day her brother Sam ‘ran away’.

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“I’ll never forget when my brother started running away from me because he thought I was racing him. You can see the competitiveness in our family already! I said I’d race him to a rock in the distance, and I was kind of letting him win, but he carried on running. I went to get Mum and Dad to try and catch him – there ended up being a search party to find him!”

The great outdoors has been integral to Ellie’s successes and drive for rugby. She recounts playing childhood games of Cops and Robbers, wrestling on the trampoline, and playing tag with her now 21-year-old brother Sam, who is hot on her heels as he plays for England Rugby Sevens and the first team at Loughborough University.

Now playing for the Harlequins, Ellie confesses her future desire to settle back down in Yorkshire. “I want my kids to have a similar upbringing to me, I’m stuck to my roots. It’s the most gorgeous place in the world. I enjoyed an outdoorsy childhood, which involved lots of running, playing games, and growing a competitive side, which has given me the skills that I’ve got today on the rugby field.”

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Ellie, an evidently proud sister, smiles as she affectionately credits her brother. “I became ‘the girl that played rugby,’ and I was a little bit older, so I kind of excelled. I think for a long time, my brother was in and out of playing football and rugby, but not in my shadow.

“My brother has been the best training partner,” she adds. “When I’ve needed it, he’s pushed me, kept me going, and that’s something I really appreciate. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

As Ellie sets her sights on the Olympic dream, she is adamant that brother Sam will be by her side. “Sam has made a name for himself by being a great rugby player, and it’s a dream of both of ours to go to the Olympics together at some point or the Commonwealth Games because it’s absolutely doable for both of us.”

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Ellie’s rugby career has gone from strength to strength with a string of impressive performances to her name, from an inaugural Premier 15s season with Gloucester which led to five more Red Roses starts in the 2018 Women’s Six Nations. She moved from 15s to sevens in August 2018, having scored nine tries in eight appearances for the Red Roses. Ellie joined Wasps in 2020, and a move to Harlequins followed in 2021.

As for career highlights, Ellie reels them off. “Oh, I’ve got loads,” she grins. “But my top three include qualifying for the 2020 Olympics. It felt like all the odds were stacked against us. It was just the most amazing time because we worked so hard in the build-up to it to get to that point.

“The Women’s World Cup final in 2022 was huge – even though we didn’t win, that experience has shaped me as a rugby player. I’ve never experienced heartbreak like it, but it gave me the first insight into that feeling. You can see it as a downfall, but I genuinely believe it’s created a hunger inside me that I never knew I had.”

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But it was this year’s Women’s Six Nations victory against France at Twickenham which stands out. Not just for the sheer triumph of winning, but the record crowd of 58,000 fans in attendance – a watershed moment for women’s rugby. As the training bus weaved its way through Twickenham a few hours before kick-off, Ellie psyched herself up – afrobeats blaring through her headphones to focus and “get into her own head”.

“When I gazed out of the window, I saw the packed-out streets, which meant we took a different route to the stadium. When we sang the national anthem, I was mouthing it because, for once, I couldn’t hear the players singing on either side of me. Instead, I could hear the whole of Twickenham singing. We’d spent years standing on the field singing on our own or to empty seats. It was a very, very cool moment, and it highlighted where the game is going – it’s just exciting to be part of that journey.”

Deep in the throes of Rugby World Cup 2025 preparation, Ellie’s focus is unrelenting. “Training camp is full on; we’re learning a lot now,” she says. “Our days stretch from 7 am to 9 pm. It’s an intense time of focus in a high-performance environment. When I play for the Harlequins, I have Wednesdays and Fridays off. The different environments push me in different ways to work hard at being the best player I can be.”

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Ellie has come a long way from being the only girl on the field and hiding to change behind a towel in a disabled toilet. She is the first women’s rugby star to collaborate with a sportswear brand launching her sportswear collection with Canterbury last month. The growth of women’s rugby and inspiring young people remains a passion and a privilege for her.

“I am very proud to be able to inspire people with what I do. We’ve shown our strength in what was a male-dominated sport.

“Ultimately, all I’m doing is playing rugby and doing what I’ve done since I was a kid. I play because I enjoy it and I’m passionate about it. And the fact that it has such a strong hold on other people and impacts people’s lives is very cool. I’m just enjoying myself and everything else that comes along with it.”

Follow Ellie’s journey @elliekildunne, and see more of the Canterbury range at canterbury.com/ellie-kildunne.list

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