Shaunagh Brown discuses her retirement from rugby in her BBC Sport column

Shaunagh Brown column: England prop on why World Cup selection seemed unlikely

Today, I announced that I am retiring from rugby.

It has been an incredible journey with England and Harlequins and I am so proud of what I have achieved on the way, but I know it is a journey that has reached its natural end.

Aside from the fact that rugby has been my identity for the past seven years, there are some very real-life considerations involved in retiring.

I have a mortgage to pay – expensive energy bills. It is great that England women’s players are fully professional now but what I earned in rugby was by no means enough to save money for a rainy day. I do not really have anything to fall back on now my playing career is over.

So there will not be much time for me to reflect on my career – I have some big decisions to make.

People might think I should have thought about what I was going to do a year ago and prepared for this moment.

But I was preparing for a World Cup and I did not know when this was going to happen. Even if I had, people do not generally give you a job a year in advance.

When you are preparing for a World Cup, that is the only thing on your mind. It is hard to take a step back and plan for your future.

Shaunagh Brown playing for England
Brown played in England’s 2022 World Cup final defeat to New Zealand

‘I am heartbroken to miss Twickenham game’

One of my proudest achievements in my career is of course reaching the World Cup final.

The result is still gutting. Just four points more and we would have beaten New Zealand. It feels like life could have been so different if that had happened.

As a group of women, our platform could have been so much bigger if only we had had four more points on the board.

But we reached the pinnacle of rugby and we did it in front of 42,579 fans at Eden Park – a record crowd for women’s rugby.

I have proved myself to myself. That is why it feels right to leave rugby now.

Obviously, it is not an easy decision – especially when the sport is growing so much.

I am heartbroken that I am not going to be playing in England’s Women’s Six Nations game against France at Twickenham in April.

It is the first standalone Red Roses game at Twickenham and there have been 25,000 tickets sold already.

It makes me sad that I have taken myself out of historic moments like that but it is the right decision for me at this time.

‘I am proud of my diversity work’

Shaunagh Brown speaks into a microphone
Off the pitch, Brown is a women’s sport and diversity and inclusion advocate

Off the pitch, I am proud of my work in diversity and inclusion.

As I have aged, I have realised that is the thing I am most motivated by. It is what has pushed me to go out and train in the freezing cold – because I know me playing as a mixed race woman has an effect on so many.

Previously diversity work for me has just involved being in the rooms where mixed race females aren’t.

Growing up lifting weights in the gym, being a British Gas heating engineer, being a firefighter – sometimes being the only female or only person of colour in the room.

I did not realise people needed to see someone like them do something to go and do it themselves.

Now, I see that as well as just being in the room it is helpful to talk about what it is like to be there.

From day one in my England career, I was the only or one of very few people of colour in the dressing room.

I did not realise I would feel so different. The amount of time you spend together in a rugby team makes you see how different you are to your team-mates.

I noticed it but never felt like I should not be there. Before coming to rugby, I competed in hammer throw at the Commonwealth Games and when I switched sports my black friends from athletics saw it as challenging to move from that to a group of mostly white people.

It is just having people around with the same cultural references as you. That connection that is unspoken, but you just know.

Now I make more of a conscious effort to talk about what that feels like in the hope it empowers others who find themselves in similar situations.

‘I have applied for Gladiators’

So, as I said, there are some big decisions to be made now.

I will miss messages from people saying, ‘because I watched you play I am going to give rugby a go’ or from parents telling me their girls have watched me and the team and their personalities have changed for the better through rugby.

I will work to make that same contribution off the pitch now.

I want to spread the messages around diversity and inclusion that I have spread in rugby elsewhere.

There are causes I hope to have more time for. For example, I would love to be part of a movement that stops schools from making girls wear a skirt or dress as school uniform or to play sport. There should be more choice.

And on a lighter note… I have applied for the TV show Gladiators. Last time I retired from a sport – hammer throw – I took up rugby within two weeks, so who knows?

Shaunagh Brown was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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