Richie McCaw. Brian O’Driscoll. George Gregan.
These legends will be the only three players in history that will have played more international matches than Rochelle ‘Rocky’ Clark when she takes the field against Scotland this weekend.
The 36-year-old will make her 135th outing at international level when she comes off the bench during Friday night’s Six Nations match against Scotland, overtaking Wales prop Gethin Jenkins to go outright fourth on the all-time list.
In doings so, England’s leading collector of appearances will become the most capped prop and front row forward in the history of the game.
“Gethin Jenkins has always been an idol of mine and to get anywhere near him and surpass him is an honour,” she said.
“It’s nice to be talking about a milestone but it’s not something you set out to do, but I’m very pleased and honoured to pull the shirt on.”
A veteran of four World Cups – winner of one – and with eight SixNations titles to her name, there is not much that Rocky has not won during her 15-year career with the Red Roses – so what still motivates her?
“I’m still as hungry as I was at the age of 25 charging around a field. I’m still loving it every time I get the opportunity,” she explained.
“Obviously it gets a little bit harder the older you get and I’ve definitely changed how I play as I’m a bit slower and you change your tactics, you understand the game a hell of a lot better rather than just chasing around like a headless chicken.
“It’s about having the hunger. As soon as the hunger goes you’ve got to ask yourself whether it is time to call it a day but certainly at the moment I’m still loving it every second.”
Key to recovery
Rocky made her England debut as a replacement against Canada in 2003, so what is her advice to staying at the top over a 15-year Test career?
“I’m obsessed with hot baths, they keep me mobile,” she says with a smile.
“When you feel a bit stiff, you just go and jump in a boiling hot bath, turn out looking like a lobster and your aches and pains seem to go away.
“I’ve definitely got stronger and paid particular attention in the last year to my leg strength and conditioning and that seems to have made a real difference to me and what I achieve on the park with my leg drive and scrummaging.”
Clark, who was awarded an MBE for Services to Rugby in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List, says the drive to wear the number one shirt remains as high as ever.
“I still strive to start every game and I think that pushes the other props as well that I’m not just settling for a bench spot,” she added.
“I understand the importance of rotation with all the talent we have in the system coming through and them playing at a high standard pushes me to be the best I can be as I still want to be competitive.”
In their own words
England fly half Katy Daley-Mclean: “You talk about inspirations in the game, but she actually is. You look at the position she plays, it’s such an awful position to get up and do regularly.
“She doesn’t settle to think ‘I’ve got over 130 caps now’ she is one of the hardest workers in the squad by far.
“All of those attributes are clearly what’s got her to today and if you’re young and want a hero then that is your girl, as all the bits that make her brilliant, getting up and working hard and repeating it over 20 years is phenomenal.”
Red Roses flanker Marlie Packer: “She was someone who looked out for others, she knew what she wanted, what her goals were and was an absolute inspiration for young players to look up to and I was one of them.
“She just has that mental edge that drives her to keep going and going. You couldn’t tell her age or caps from anyone else she does everything the same as us.”
England prop Sarah Bern: “I think she just really enjoys it. Me, Izzy Noel Smith and her always have a really good laugh or a bit of mess around as she doesn’t take things too seriously.
“Then when she gets on the pitch she is ‘right, what are we learning? How can I do that as quickly as I can to make myself picked?’ So she has that drive to learn more but also that fun and enjoyment that she does loves what she does.”
England Women will face Ireland at the Ricoh Arena on Friday 16th March (kick-off 5.30pm), before England U20s take on their Irish counterparts at 8pm. To buy tickets, visit https://www.eticketing.co.uk/ricoharena/
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