Sophie goes out on a high

Published on: 31 Oct 2014

sophie Hemming training

PROP Sophie Hemming who starred in England’s World Cup victory this summer has announced her retirement from international rugby.

Sophie, 34, a vet in Staple Hill, was part of the winning team when England beat Canada 21-9 at the Jean-Bouin Stadium, Paris in August.

Following the much-talked about victory, Sophie told Downend Voice she wanted to take her time to reflect upon her future as she is one of the older members of the England squad.

Now she has decided to retire from the international scene but will still continue to play with Bristol Ladies in the RFC Women’s Premiership. She hopes to stay involved in the England set-up in some capacity as a coach, mentor or even a commentator.

Sophie, who works at Avenue Vets in Pendennis Avenue, has proved herself to be a world class tight-head prop since making her début in 2007. 

She has since gone on to amass an impressive 71 caps, compete in several winning Six Nations campaigns and two rugby world cups. 

Sophie said: “I wanted to take a bit of time after the world cup to think about whether I wanted to continue playing for another season and play another Six Nations or stop at this point.

“I decided that having won the Six Nations six times and being a world champion, I was in a pretty good position to decide to hang up my international boots.

“I wanted to go out on my terms, at the top of my game and not get to the point where coaches stop selecting me or my playing levels start to deteriorate.

“Over the last eight seasons of playing international rugby I’ve given everything and I’m not sure that I could give any more to get better.”

Sophie, who lives in Frampton Cotterell, settled in South Gloucestershire from her home town of Norfolk after studying at Bristol University.

In 2004 she qualified as a vet and has worked at Avenue Vets ever since.

She said: “It’s been fantastic but it’s been incredibly challenging juggling getting up at 5.30am, going training then doing a full day’s work at the vets and then training again after work. It’s hard to sustain.

“I felt it was important that someone else has the opportunity to develop and gain the experience which is needed going into the next world cup. If I had carried on for another season, that potentially takes an opportunity away from one of the younger players coming through. I’ve had my time and now it’s time to step aside and let someone else have that experience. They’ve announced the new crop of the England playing squad and it’s really exciting - the future is definitely bright.”

Sophie said her career as a vet would now take centre stage.

“Avenue vets have been so supportive of my international career and it’s important to me to repay that now. It will be refreshing not having to stress about the constant demands of juggling weekend rotas and being on call. 

“I consider myself so lucky to play international rugby alongside what is a fantastic career and a fantastic job.”

Sophie said she would treasure her memories from her international career: “Losing the World Cup final in 2010 against New Zealand so narrowly -13-10 -  was devastating but it provided me with the drive to carry on and keep training and give that extra bit to get to to world cup final this season, which was the best memory of all.

“Hearing a chorus of ‘Swing Low’ as we stepped off the team bus in front of hundreds of family and friends after we’d won the World Cup was just incredible.”

Sophie said playing with Bristol is still high on her list of priorities.

“I’ve committed certainly to playing this season with Bristol. It’s important to carry on playing and not suddenly stop as I’d go into massive withdrawal! I love rugby and I love being involved. I’ve got some fantastic mates and team mates at Bristol.”

Although Sophie continues to be busy, she has managed to fit some mountain biking into her schedule, taking part in a recent race.

“It provides a really good competitive outlet for me. I thrive off being busy and will always fill my time no matter how little I have of it!”

England head coach Gary Street said: “Sophie epitomises hard work. During her rugby career she has transformed herself into one of the most talented props in the world whilst remarkably balancing a demanding career as a vet. I think Sophie is a tremendous example of what you can achieve if you really want it enough.”

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