‘Killer Gorilla Clark’ goes on the run! - Front Row Club

‘Killer Gorilla Clark’ goes on the run!

by Lily O’Hara

Rocky Clark is England’s most capped player – men and women – with 137, after overtaking our lovely landlord Jason Leonard who is the most capped men’s player with 114.

We spoke to the Saracens prop forward about her ambitions to be a wrestler as a child, pranks on tour with England, players to look out for at the World Cup in New Zealand and her embarrassing celebrity crush…

You are England’s most capped player, though there has been some misquotes about England’s most capped player, referring to male players; do you find yourself biting your lip a little when this happens?  Or are you well equipped to handle these kind of slips?

It is frustrating as I’ve been around for some time now that I’d hope the research had been done but it is nice to see people correcting them and throwing my name in there, flying the flag for me. It’s often people I’ve never met as well, which is humbling to be reminded that there is a following of women’s rugby and it makes such a difference. In the meantime, I do enjoy sharing the title with Jason Leonard who is a hero of mine.

Out of interest do you get physical caps per game, as that would mean a lot of caps for you? 

No, it’s one cap awarded for your first match then one for 50th, 100th, 150. Alun Wyn Jones for Wales is currently on 143 so he’ll be on four soon.

FRC would be curious to see an International Rugby Player Special on SAS Who Dares Wins – are there any TV show challenges you’d love to try? 

Ooooh I would do I’m a Celebrity, I think that would be good fun even though I’m terrified of snakes, spiders, any kind of creepy crawlies really. I’d prefer to do it in the warmer version in Australia!

What TV Shows are you enjoying watching at the moment?

Designated Survivor, Dynasty is funny, New Girl and Good Girls.

Who’s your embarrassing crush?

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What was your childhood dream job?

I actually wanted to be a wrestler, believe it or not! I even had a name – Killer Gorilla Clark. I used to watch WWF for years when I was a kid and I would wrestle with my dad. Whenever I went round my Nan’s house, as she had Sky TV, I’d watch hours of it.

Any funny tour stories you are allowed to talk about?

At England camp we would share rooms, so we would have daily challenges between us in room wars, pitted against each other and there’d be forfeits for the losing room. The challenges would be target shooting into a bin, more points awarded the further away you threw from. Losers would have to eat a mouthful cinnamon, or fish and jelly, basically similar to I’m a Celeb trials.

Other challenges would be how long you can balance on a small square object, another to have your mate stand straight balancing on your knees and lean back for as long as possible without falling off. Me and Ceri Large, as we were always roommates, would do the partner challenge together where I would hold her up in a plank position. I remember thinking imagine if our coach walked in! Once in New Zealand, one of our coaches shouted at us for being too rowdy, I mean it was 9pm so little strict but to be fair we were running up and down in swimming costumes. We’d lost the challenge that day and our forfeit was to go down to reception wearing just our swimming costumes to ask when breakfast was.

Any superstitions or rituals you have before or after a game?  

I always wear a thermal and head guard every match I play. Before a game I have a big old brunch of bacon sandwiches or eggs on toast with a coffee. And post game I have a bath.

Any best mates on the pitch? Are there players you love to see on the team sheet?

Ceri Large! She has 52 caps for England and of those games, I’ve shared a room with her over 40 times. We just had so much fun and great banter. She’s currently playing for Gloucester-Hartpury. Also, Georgina Gulliver née Rozario and Kim Oliver, who are former England players – they always put a smile on my face.

What do you think about research into the risks of playing rugby, like in the film Concussion with Will Smith?

Yeah that film was brutal. There are risks as with any sport but it’s important everyone is educated to understand what to look out for when it comes to head injury. Concussion can go unnoticed and this certainly used to be the case. Education is priority for player safety. It’s important for players and coaches alike to spot the signs of concussion and make sure they follow a precise protocol. Now there’s a necessary protocol in place to follow which helps and can prevent secondary concussions and hopefully longer-term issues. At England, we used to have a SCAT test to provide a base line for comparison against if/when you do have a head injury. I’ve heard from people how some of the questions used to be generic, such as what’s the score or what day is it, and even without injury players may struggle to decide the answers right away, so it’s good to have a base line unique to the player to compare to.

Equality in the sport has improved but still some way to go. What’s your take on it and what would you like to see?

I don’t mind when people say they don’t enjoy women’s rugby as long as they’ve watched a women’s match. It’s only frustrating when jokes are made despite never coming to watch. I would say of all the people who’ve come to watch the women play for the first time, except maybe one or two, have said how much they’ve enjoyed it and seen for themselves how the skill level is exceptional. I say fair play to those guys who have educated themselves and been honest how they’ve changed their minds since coming to watch more women’s games. The best way to strive for equality in the sport is growing our crowd base by having more people able to come and support us and empowering women to hold senior positions within the RFU.

When looking at Captaincy, what qualities make a good captain, what do you think is important?

It’s about the player that’s prepared to do what they say, prepared to put their body on the line, to inspire the team and not be about social media. They need to be confident and able to make quick, snap decisions; an infectious spirit on and off the pitch. Someone players feel comfortable going to with any issue and knowing they will be able to support them. Essentially, a person that can make 14 other players play well and bring the team together. Sarah Hunter, Katy Daly-Mclean and Marlie Packer, who’s vice-captain at Saracens, are all good examples of this.

Best advice you’ve received from a coach? And worst advice?

Best advice was, when under pressure, to stick to what you’re good at rather than force a skillset that’s a ‘work-on’ for you. So if you’re a solid tackler, get yourself in a good position to make those tackles. If you’re not the best at making those long passes, don’t try it under pressure. Might be better making a short pass than forcing a pass that could get intercepted. Worst advice, wasn’t really advice, more a strange drill. I was asked to run and hit the pad in a tackling drill and the coach asked the player holding the pad to move suddenly so I just nailed the floor. I wasn’t sure of the purpose unless some kind of practical joke to make me hit the floor I’m unsure. It’s key for a coach to hold the floor, because if some players are chatting amongst themselves, it’s hard to hear the coach when they’re trying to talk over people.

What are the different styles of coaching, and which approach works for you?

There’s a difference in coaching styles whether it’s between men and women and coaching at higher or lower levels. I’ve found with men in very general terms, they are more open to trying new things and are happy giving it a go, so if I said run into a brick wall, they’d do it. Women would generally ask why and have questions. Men generally are more concerned with the ‘how’ and women the ‘why’ in my experience. Women can also be more prone to feeling embarrassed in front of their peers. I’m probably the first person to step out of my comfort zone and think I’ll have a go. So if the drill was to kick on the third touch, I would give it some wellie to see where it goes, whereas other players might pass it on if they’re not feeling confident so they don’t look silly. As a coach, whether they’re men or women, I like to get to know my player to learn what works for them, what their struggles are and if they would benefit from an arm around their shoulder or better for me to fire them up. I recognise that sometimes if I am too harsh, they’ll lose confidence so I adapt a softer approach. I appreciate the need to learn about individual players and how
to respond in an appropriate way.

Funny moments on the pitch? Dick of the day awards?

Playing against Scotland and Fiona Pocock was attempting to catch a high ball, so she jumped up like a salmon out of water but she missed so the ball bounced of her head and went forward. It wasn’t a knock on just hilarious to watch as it looked like she’d head butted the ball seven metres and then fell over. Another time Sarah Hunter’s bum accidentally made it on live TV during a match, I’m sure embarrassing for her but some funny pictures made the rounds in our group chats which was hilarious for us. I remember when I played for Old Albanians, it was sometimes a mystery at the kick off where the ball was going to go, so the suspense and chaos kind of made me giggle.

James Haskell’s interviewed Dylan Hartley on his podcast What a Flanker and they talked about Eddie Jones having a practical joker side where he recommended a bunch of books for Dylan to read and would drop them in his room. Later Dylan discovered that Eddie had never read any of them!  In the Women’s teams are there any practical jokers you’ve played with or are you one?

I like a joke for sure — on tours we used to hide behind curtains or cupboards to jump out on each other. We would also make a body up in the bed’s in people’s rooms using kit, fashion a head towel, have earphones coming out, to freak people out there was someone sleeping in their room. A couple of years ago, Poppy Cleall and I would make gag videos whereby one of us would be pouring some milk and pretending to cry and the other would say, ‘Mate don’t cry over spilt milk’ or pretending to drive whilst sat behind the driver ‘Back seat driving’, silly things like that.  I’ll have to ask her if she still has the videos, see if we can re-post them.

James Haskell is known, amongst other things, for his LOVE of talking, who do you think has the gift of the gab and you’d love to represent you and be ‘your people’ as it were?

Rachel Burford and Danielle ‘Noli’ Waterman! Both are clear and established media gurus. I’m lucky to call them good friends as well, so I think they’d be honest in their representation of me. A bit like Davina on Big Brother, reminding me not to swear. Burford recently secretly filmed me having a painful needle treatment because I was being a bit of a baby about it, so with her you’d see the behind closed doors version of me for sure.

Winning the World Cup in 2014 was obviously such a proud moment for you, what is it looking like for England women in 2021 (assuming Women’s World Cup goes ahead)? 

I think they have a very good chance, as they performed really well throughout the last Six Nations. France on paper gave them a good run for their money. A couple of Six Nations ago France didn’t turn up but now they’ve got a lot better. The England line out set piece, mauls, and kicking game are unreal – especially with Katy Daley-McLean. Now she’s retired it will be interesting to see the line-up to replace her.

England has so much momentum and talent, for example in Zoe Harrison and Helena Rowlands’ kicking abilities, not forgetting their understanding of the game. Looking at the big rivals of course in New Zealand Black Ferns, they come with any game plan, so even if they’re not playing well, they always have something in their back pocket allowing them to just win a game. The Black Ferns have some great tactics and they certainly showed us that in the second half of 2017 World Cup Final. The main opposition players to look out for, and I certainly enjoying watching them play, are France flanker Romaine Ménager, an awesome player, as well as Safi N’Diaye second row and Pauline Bourdon, an influential scrum half who can cover fly half as well. As for the Black Ferns… any one of them to be honest, and certainly Kendra Cocksedge and Portia Woodman.

Obviously it’ a tricky year to make New Years’ Resolutions but do you have any personal goals this year?

Yes, I want to make a success of my business as a PT and running boot camps, fitness sessions. This past year I’ve moved it online which has opened it up to a different group of people, that I may not have met otherwise, allowing me ways to access and help them. I’m a Level 4 coach so want to continue to coach where I can. Then media-wise I’d like to delve into punditry, providing the commentary on match days. Basically my plan is to work on my career development keeping it inside rugby. I will be maintaining and developing at Saracens as I want to play as long as I can, because I still have so much love for the game. I will probably review at the end of the season but certainly won’t be hanging my boots up just yet, bring it on!

Eventually, we will all be back out there playing (post-COVID) so what advice do you have for grassroots players when we are back on the pitch?

As you don’t need an elevator pitch, what’s your motivational pitch? Try not to force things, go with your instinct, get back on the pitch and ENJOY it. Yes, you might need to make decisions without much time, but think safety first and most importantly have fun. Remember it’s about giving people the love back for rugby. It’s been a year out for grassroots rugby and I think there’s an important gap to be filled for those players who may have found a new life outside of rugby so need to gain back that demographic and make it attractive for people.

Rocky Clark, one of FRC’s Rugby Champions, is offering online fitness sessions 1-1, small group or for the whole rugby team. If interested, can reach her on instagram @rockyclark_1 or on twitter @RockyClark_1 Currently seeking new representation, please
give her a holla.

Rocky Clark currently plays for Saracens and can catch her games at https://www.saracens.com/saracens-women-live-stream/
Dear Rocky, A message to my younger self, Love Rocky: https://fb.watch/2UIS2MEtVf/

FRC Rocky 3
FRC Rocky 2

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