England v France - Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 semi-final

Rocky Clark: “Rugby changed my life”

England's most capped player Rochelle ‘Rocky’ Clark credits rugby with changing her life, but having retired from international rugby the 37-year-old is now looking forward to giving back to the sport through coaching.

When Rochelle ‘Rocky’ Clark decided to step away from international rugby in July, the announcement of her retirement was met with a wave of well-wishes.

England team-mates past and present, as well as those who had watched her 15-year test career from further afield, lined up to lavish praise on the legendary prop for what she had achieved in the white shirt.

And Clark has accomplished a lot on the international stage. England’s most-capped player across both the men’s and women’s game, the 137-cap hoarder of Grand Slams – she amassed seven – played in four Women’s Rugby World Cup finals, and lifted the trophy in 2014. 

International retirement has not been easy for Clark, who tore one of the tendons in her hamstring off the bone during a pre-season game of touch as she redoubled her efforts to give Wasps “another crack for a year or two”.

Clark felt that at 37, and unlikely to still be around for the next Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021, it was time to let a new generation of front-row forwards emerge for England.

The final act 

She will watch them in action this November against USA, Canada and Ireland but knows that not being able to be out there herself for the first time in a decade-and-a-half might prove difficult.

“I had achieved all I wanted internationally, but it was a really tough decision,” said Clark, who sits behind only Richie McCaw, Brian O'Driscoll and George Gregan in terms of test caps won.

“I think I’m going to find it really hard when they (England) play in their autumns. But unfortunately everyone has to retire at some point.”

Clark’s final appearance in an England shirt came on the final day of the 2018 Women’s Six Nations, as the Red Roses beat Ireland 33-11 at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. 

It was a fitting stage on which to bow out, but her hopes of signing off with an eighth clean sweep and ninth championship in all had evaporated six days previously as France edged past England in front of a raucous record crowd of more than 17,000 in Grenoble.

“I was hoping I could do it (retire) as a Six Nations champion but unfortunately we lost out in France so that wasn’t quite where I wanted to finish,” Clark added.

Life after playing

“It’s all about the next cycle now and realistically I wasn’t going to be in the next World Cup squad, so you have to make way and let the youngsters through, and hopefully give back in my coaching.”

Clark admits she was “really cut up” when she felt her hamstring pop just three weeks before the start of the Tyrrells Premier 15s season but her desire to play on has provided inspiration during rehab.

She has only recently been able to run on the injury but any spare energy has been put to good use with Chesham Stags, the men’s team she coaches alongside former England team-mate Kat Merchant.

“What it (injury) has enabled me to do is really throw all my eggs in one basket in terms of coaching,” Clark said. “So it means I can be with them every week and it’s been really positive to have something to really focus on.

“I haven’t had that release (of playing) and I cannot tell you … I’m champing at the bit to back but I’ve definitely had my mind taken off it by coaching the boys.”

Clark is currently enrolled on a Level 4 coaching course with the RFU and has hopes to use that knowledge at a higher level, although having recently performed co-commentary duties for Premier 15s coverage she admits a career in the media could also be an option.


While she deliberates over what life after rugby will look like, Clark is keen to give back to a game that she says “changed my life”.

“I was 15 and my friend asked me to go along (to rugby training) one day. I was like ‘ah, no I’ll get injured’,” she said. “I went along, never looked back. I was drawn to it because it was a game for all shapes and sizes.

“Back then at school I was quite a big girl, not necessarily the first pick on the sports teams but then I suddenly became such an important person on this team. ‘You can’t play without Rocks’.

“Being a big girl I was quite a go-to in rugby, and that was so nice and gave me confidence.”

If it was love at first sight for Clark and rugby, the loose-head prop soon discovered when making her England debut against Canada in 2003 that she would need more than size to thrive on the international stage.

England’s nutritionist at the time, Dr Karen Reid, put Clark on a strict low-fat diet while she was also required to attend strength and conditioning sessions at Twickenham every week. Being a university student at the time meant the prop was forced into a fairly drastic lifestyle change, shunning chocolate, fast food and nights out.

A fairytale year

“It was (tough) and I’m really proud of that part of my life,” Clark said. “If you’d have seen me a year apart I was a completely different person.

“I was just so proud that I was able to do that and it put me in a much healthier place. And that was the start of my England career, and a very long career which I’m very proud of.”

Winning the World Cup in 2014 remains, according to Clark, “without a doubt the best day of my life” and led to an MBE in the 2015 New Year Honours and a subsequent trip to Windsor Castle to cap a “fairytale year”.

Clark still had more to achieve, however, claiming her 115th England cap on 13 November, 2016 to overtake her hero, World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Jason Leonard, as her country’s most-capped player. Naturally, she celebrated the occasion with a try.

“I really looked up to him,” she said. “So, it was amazing to be associated with his name, or anywhere near.

“I didn’t really try to think about it until it happened, because you never know when your last cap is and you don’t want to take it for granted. So, I really enjoyed the moment afterwards, a very proud moment to be in his club.”

gemma fay
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Iryna Arkhytska aiming to balance Ukrainian board following 'marathon' southern hemisphere trip
World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient Iryna Arkhytska embarked on a tour of Australia, Fiji and New Zealand that is already having an impact at home in the Ukraine.
France v USA - Rugby World Cup 2019: Pool C
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Kirsten Peterson: The woman behind the USA's mindful approach to RWC 2019
Sport psychologist Kirsten Peterson spent time with the USA as they prepared for the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup in July.
World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
How rugby is empowering women in Fiji
World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient Vela Naucukidi discusses the changing attitudes towards females and rugby in Fiji.
HSBC USA Women's Sevens 2018
Women's Sevens Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Sarah Hirini: "We can’t fall back on what we’ve previously done"
New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini shares how her side are fully focused on what's ahead and are eager to set new markers after a title-winning world series last year.
Canada v Wales - Women's Rugby World Cup 2017
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Julianne Zussman falling in love with rugby all over again as a referee
Former Canada full-back Julianne Zussman will make her debut as a HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series referee in Glendale this weekend.
Stacey Waaka - New Zealand
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Stacey Waaka: “I believe everything happens for a reason”
One of the ‘Unstoppables’ in World Rugby’s new campaign to promote women in rugby, Black Ferns star Stacey Waaka is one of a select few to have won Rugby World Cups in sevens and 15s but she may never have had the opportunity to write her name into the history books after being involved in a serious bus crash aged 15.
Mitre 10 Cup Rd 5 - Hawke's Bay v Southland
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Rebecca Mahoney breaks new ground as she rises to the challenge in New Zealand
Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Rebecca Mahoney discusses her historic Mitre 10 Cup refereeing debut and her desire to be on the match official panel for New Zealand 2021.
Nutsa Shamatava
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
'At first it was unusual for players but now it’s normal'
Georgia medic Nutsa Shamatava discusses her experiences as the only female team doctor at Rugby World Cup 2019.
Jayne Pearce at London 2012
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Pearce privileged to watch women flourish during transformative year
Rugby World Cup 2019 Match Press Officer Jayne Pearce headed to Japan on the back of media operations roles at the FIFA women's and netball World Cups.
Ksenia Getmanova - Russia logistics manager
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Getmanova relishing 'biggest' role of her life in Japan
Russia's logistics manager Ksenia Getmanova hopes that her involvement at Rugby World Cup 2019 can inspire more women to consider sport as a career.