Red Roses forward Noel-Smith announces retirement

  • Noel-Smith to retire from club and international rugby
  • She won 42 caps over a seven-year international career

Red Roses flanker Izzy Noel-Smith has announced her retirement from rugby.

The 29-year-old Bristol Ladies forward made her England debut in 2011 and won 42 caps for her country.

Career highlights include winning two Six Nations Grand Slams, being part of the side that sealed a 3-0 series whitewash over Australia, Canada and New Zealand in 2017 and part of the team that reached the Women’s Rugby World Cup final in the same year, in which she scored a late try.

“Representing England was a figment of my imagination growing up,” said Noel-Smith. “I was the only girl in an all-boys team; I didn’t even know a girl could play for England. The journey has meant so much to me.”

She is to marry her fiancé in May while also continuing her career as a primary school teacher.

“I’ve played rugby since I was eight years old and it’s been a huge part of my life so I know it’s going to be strange when it ends, but it’s exciting to have things on the horizon,” added Noel-Smith, who played openside, blindside and No 8 for England.

“I’ve been given a new role with my job so it will be interesting to see what opportunities come my way. It will also be nice to spend some quality time with my husband to be and settle into family life.”

Speaking about her decision to retire, Bristol head coach Kim Oliver said: “Izzy will be a huge loss to the club – not just to Bristol Ladies, but to women’s rugby in general. She is a real character and brings joy to everyone she meets. 

“Izzy is just happy-go-lucky, she turns up to training and you know she’s there because she’s loud – either grumpy or in one of those moods where you can’t shut her up, her energy is infectious.

“She will be hugely missed, she’s been a tremendous ambassador for the sport and all of us at the club will miss her contribution both on and off the pitch. We wish her the very best."

First cap

Noel-Smith made her senior England debut against France in 2011 in what she describes as a “thunderstorm” but says the memory of that day will never leave her.

“I remember standing and singing the national anthem and looking up at my parents, especially seeing my dad with tears in his eyes and feeling very emotional. It was a proud moment for me and my family as they had supported me unconditionally in my work towards it.

“Playing for your country and singing the national anthem is something that never loses its sparkle, it is so special. To look up and see your family and friends staring back at you is an immense feeling of pride. Every time you take the field it is as if they are there in the shirt with you.”


Noel-Smith started playing with Monmouth minis before joining Hereford, Doha, Cullompton, Bath and finally Bristol where she has played for the last nine seasons. Noel-Smith also played for England Sevens between 2011-2013.

She was educated at Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls and University of Bath where she studied Coach Education and Sports Development.

When reflecting on her career Noel-Smith says there were two pivotal moments that stand out, battling back into the England side in 2015 and that 3-0 series victory a year later.

“We hadn’t beaten The Black Ferns in New Zealand for 16 years,” she added. “We were so close as a team, we were playing not just for each other but also for the Red Roses that had worn the shirt before us. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replicate that feeling I had at the final whistle against New Zealand.”

And when the new season comes about after playing for over two decades, Noel-Smith admits there will be mixed emotions. 

“I know it’s not going to be easy and I will be watching with a longing in my heart - rugby has been such a huge part of my life.

“When pre-season begins I’ll be laughing because I know how tough it is. When the autumn internationals come around I’ll be there watching proudly and willing them to victory. I’ve experienced so many highs and lows with these girls and am lucky to have made so many friends for life.”