“Young girls, young boys, women, men can all see our game and it is so accessible.”

We spoke to Lark Davies, an English rugby union player who currently plays as hooker for Bristol Bears and the England national team. Lark talks about her journey to becoming a professional rugby player, the influence of her father on her decision to pursue the sport, and the challenges she faced while juggling her teaching career with rugby. Lark also talks about the importance of staying grounded and managing stress, both on and off the pitch.

Did your dad’s experience playing rugby have an influence on your decision to pursue the sport?

“It was more the case that he played rugby and loved rugby so we would watch a lot of rugby at home and with my grandparents as well it would always be on TV. But I was not aware of the accessibility that I had to rugby. As a family, my older sister was a very good swimmer, so I picked up swimming as well. We always did loads of different sports, and I would always chuck a rugby ball about with my dad but never really played. Then a teacher came to my primary school and introduced tag rugby and I absolutely loved it. And from there we went looking to see if any clubs had a local girl’s side. We found one from a club side called Luctonians (Luctonians Rugby and Sports Club). We went along to that, there was not many of us. And then my playing started off at Worcester at my age group level. But he was influential, he’s by far my biggest supporter now. He has taxied me so many places and always chats about the game afterwards giving me feedback, so he played a huge part in my rugby journey.”

I read in an old interview you were inspired to play rugby at the age of ten, what specific moment inspired you to take up rugby after watching it on TV?

“The 2003 World Cup was massive. Watching that as an eight-year-old and thinking, wow this is amazing, but obviously that’s men rugby and I think the amazing thing about our game now is how it is developing and growing. Young girls, young boys, women, men can all see our game and it is so accessible, we are getting some amazing crowds to games. Potentially breaking the world record at Twickenham and I just think being able to watch it on TV and coming to games, which is something I would have dreamed to do as a child.

All the rugby players I had as a child were male rugby players that I looked up to. I think when I became a teenager, I vividly remember the 2010 World Cup which was in England and using dial up connection (laughs) with my old school computer to try and watch it online and being inspired by seeing this amazing team of England women playing in a World Cup. But I always allude to my two older sisters being my biggest inspiration so I could not, not mention them.”

Do you ever pinch yourself thinking this is something I am doing as a career now?

“I think yesterday, (England vs Italy Six Nations match at the Six Nations) we had a massive tunnel of people welcome us into Franklin's Gardens (Northampton Saints Stadium) and it kept going and going, people were cheering and putting their hands out for high fives. It does make you quite emotional. Thinking wow all these people are here to support the game and they are all buzzing to come and watch the game too, so I love moments like that.

Obviously, rugby has not always been my career and so in those early years of playing rugby I knew that they are going to be some stage in my career where I would have to be juggling work as well as rugby. When we got contracts in 2019, that was unbelievable, I know it is cliché, but it is a dream come true, and I love playing rugby and to do it as a profession. I was a teacher before and as much I loved that, it was incredibly difficult to manage them both and there are still some players that do that. So, I think the first few weeks being a professional and saying ‘okay this my job now’ is one of those moments. I still have moments now where I am like, this is cool and being able to be a pro and call this my job.”

You mentioned previously being a teacher, how did you manage that?

“I came out of university and got my first teaching job it was a time where I really wanted to push on with rugby as well, and it was the year before 2013 World Cup. I did not make that World Cup and I was full time teaching, so my first year of teaching I was getting up at ridiculous hours in the morning to try and get training in and then going to work and then go to train again afterwards. I was trying to be the best I could be at both of those things; I owed it to the children that I was teaching to be the best possible teacher I could be, and I wanted to do that. I also wanted to be the best possible rugby player that I could be, and it was just so hard. It did not work out, so the year after that I decided to go part-time with teaching. I took quite a big financial hit because of that but I was like, I want to focus on rugby after not making the last World Cup squad. I said to myself this is my time to do everything I can and that lead to me getting more caps for England and put myself in a position to get a professional contract. So, it was very hard, but I would not change it.

It has made me who I am and has given me that drive, work ethic and it was a pivotal part of my career.”

When you felt overwhelmed in those moments, is there anything that kept you grounded and is there anything you do to manage stress?

“Yes, there is a few things I do. If I am on the pitch, I play hooker, so you have to throw at the line outs, so I have quite a big process. For me, it will be to take a big breath in and out and ground myself within that moment. In life, I will journal a lot and write things down but as well as that I love being outdoors. I have got a dog called Bodie and an hour outside with him is perfect. As an elite athlete it is about getting the balance. I always say I am Lark the rugby player, but I am also Lark outside of that, so it is important to get that balance right and do stuff that you enjoy.”

Going back to earlier on in your career…did becoming the captain of Worcester Valkyries shape you and if so, what factors contributed to the development of your leadership skills?

“I was always really encouraged and supported by the players and coaches around me. I look back at my age group time at Worcester and playing in the premiership and being captain, I was young still. It was in a new team, and we did not win many games and it was challenging and I look back at that and it shaped me being a leader in terms of a lot of lessons and a lot of things I did wrong. I was not the perfect captain in any shape or form. I think I have reflected upon that in my years, had a few times where I have captained Lightning as well and obviously now at Bears and I do see myself as a leader off pitch and on the pitch. Those years at Worcester really shaped me in terms of making lots of mistakes and that was huge. I loved the club (Worcester), it had supported me through all my junior rugby and was a massive part of my senior career, so I felt like I owed it to them to make sure I was the best leader possible.”

Of all the historic moments you have experienced in your career thus far, is there one moment that stands out to you as a source of pride?

“There is a few, despite not winning the World Cup that is a huge moment in my career. As well as that I had quite a significant ankle injury going into the World Cup during a warmup game, and it was touch-and-go, but I worked hard in rehab to try and get back on the pitch. I did not make the 2017 World Cup and I had all sights set on that World Cup to get on the pitch. So, getting on the pitch at that World Cup was a huge moment of pride for me because it was not the World Cup, I had imagined in any way shape or form to go there injured. But to be able to get through that and be on the pitch was massive. Also, any time we are in a stadium with a packed crowd, and you can hear the audience it is amazing.

We are also looking forward to Twickenham against France, over 42,000 tickets sold, that will be a phenomenal occasion not just for us but for rugby and women’s sports in general.

Just keep working hard and enjoying it and keep the learning. Such a pivotal part of being a human and being in sport is learning and making a mistake and that is what really develops you.”

Rugby is an extremely exerting sport. Decisions need to be made in quick time under extreme pressure. What do you as an individual, and the wider team, do to cope with the physical and mental pressures on and away from the field?

“On pitch reminding yourself of what you need to do in your role and being clear of your details and what you need to. You need to keep reminding yourself of your super strengths, this is what I am good at and this what I bring to the team. As a group, we are really good outside of rugby as we play games together. We make sure we talk to each other honestly and openly. We are also good at supporting one another off pitch as well as on the pitch and always giving each other feedback.

We have a lot of work being developed to support us as players behind the scenes. At the moment, we have got breathing exercises classes on our day off or our psychologist is working to develop leaders in the team. So, we are doing a lot of work that helps with that pressure or in those moments.”

Are you proud with how the sport of women’s rugby has developed?

“Yes massively, I think for a lot of us we talk about leaving the shirt in a better place and you think about now if you have got 14, 15 and 16-year-old girls going into women’s rugby the development in the last 5 years alone has been unbelievable. We are also aware of our own journeys coming into women’s rugby. We have our group of Red Roses (England women’s national rugby union team) past and present. These past players used to organise the World Cup themselves. Driving the minibuses to pick up the teams. And it is important to know that journey the Red Roses have been on so there is a massive sense of pride to know where we have been and where we are going in the future. How amazing would it be in 10 years’ time for there to be a fully professional league in England, where you have a team of Red Roses that are absolutely crushing the world stage.”

Despite facing challenges of juggling a teaching career with rugby, Lark pursued her passion for rugby and has now become a successful professional rugby player. Her story emphasizes the importance of having supportive family members and coaches who encourage and guide you towards your goals. It also highlights the significance of staying grounded and managing stress both on and off the pitch. You can watch Lark Davies play in England’s crucial Six Nations fixture this weekend against France at Twickenham Stadium which is expected to be a sell-out crowd. We wish Lark and the England team all the best of luck for the upcoming game.

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