‘I only wanted one cap. There’s no getting around it’: England rugby star Sarah Hunter reflects on ‘crazy’ journey to earning her record 138th cap as she prepares to lead her country in the World Cup quarter-final against Australia
- Sarah Hunter set to lead England out against Australia on Sunday in Auckland
- The number eight will be the national team’s most limited player ever
- Stark contrast to where the women’s game was when she made her debut
- England prepare for Australia in the quarterfinals of the World Cup
Sarah Hunter’s England debut in 2007 came at Old Albanian Rugby Club. Only a few hundred people were in the ground.
At the time, the country’s female players did not play under the jurisdiction of the Rugby Football Union and were not even allowed to wear shirts with the traditional red rose on their chest. Professionalism was a pipeline dream.
The contrast with the men – the World Cup finalists of that year – could not have been greater.
Sarah Hunter becomes the most capable English rugby player of all time on Sunday
“We didn’t have the rose and had what we used to joke a tulip or a rosebud that hadn’t fully blossomed,” Hunter said. “We weren’t allowed to come out and show what women’s rugby was about.” Both Hunter and English women’s rugby have certainly blossomed since then.
On Sunday, Hunter becomes the most capable player in England’s rugby history when she leads her country in a World Cup quarter-final with Australia.
The clash at Auckland’s Waitakere Stadium will be Hunter’s 138th Test appearance. She has come a long way since her bow in Hertfordshire. The same goes for the sport she practices. “I only wanted one cap,” said Hunter, the leader of one of England’s most successful teams.
The number eight hopes to captain England this Sunday to a new semi-final of the World Cup
“It’s crazy sitting here 138 caps later – I can’t reach it. I think the girl who made that first cap would be very proud if she knew where the journey was going.’
Sarah Hunter Fact File
Position: No 8
Tests as captain: 81
Tests won as captain: 63 (one draw, 17 losses)
Hunter was there every step of the way for the remarkable development that has taken place in the women’s game in England. There are still steps to be taken, but the Red Roses are at the forefront of the sport worldwide. The majority of head coach Simon Middleton’s squad is fully professional.
England are a dominant force, having won their last 28 games. They remain strong favorites to win what would be their third World Cup – and Hunter’s second – in New Zealand.”
The investment in the game and seeing it on terrestrial TV has changed things tremendously. I feel pretty lucky to have experienced it,” Hunter said.
“When I was 16 I didn’t even know there was an English women’s team. Now we are professional. The girls are now getting their first caps at sold-out places like Kingsholm and Welford Road. Next year we have a stand-alone match in Twickenham.’
The difference is incomparable. ‘It sure is. The RFU is often a target for nothing but criticism, but their investment in the women’s game has paid off well. A World Cup victory in the southern hemisphere would be the crowning glory. England are the best side in the league and should have too much for Australia. “Sarah sets the bar so high,” Middleton said.
If we can get the rest of our players to get on that record then we’ll be pretty close to where we want to be as a group.” Hunter will surpass Rocky Clark’s caps record in England after returning to Middleton’s side for the meeting with the Wallaroos. She was equipped for the last win in the group stage against South Africa.
Hunter has come a long way since the person who debuted at a regional club in 2007
In the 81 tests she played as England captain, Hunter won 63, drew one and lost 17.
“England v Australia is always a big event in any sport,” said Middleton. “I always watched the rugby league when Great Britain and England played against Australia. That’s what I grew up with.’
Some of those matches were incredible and you also have test cricket. Ben Stokes and those innings he played in 2019, Ian Botham in 1981 and the men’s Rugby World Cup final in 2003.”
Those are the things that really appeal to me. The rivalry between the two countries is boundless. It couldn’t be a better draw for us.’
A wet forecast for Auckland should allow England to dominate Australia up front, where they have a significant advantage. England’s driving maul has impressed in the tournament so far.
The English skipper has painted a mural on her in Newcastle commissioned by England Rugby for Sunday’s game against Australia
Their unbeaten record should go to 29. A likely semi-final with Canada and a possible final showdown with host New Zealand is likely England’s way in the coming weeks.
How fitting would it be for Hunter to raise the World Cup trophy at Eden Park on November 12, although a lot of work remains to be done if that is to happen.
Hunter has told England not to lose focus and be distracted by talking about her personal milestones.”
“Winning a quarter-final of the World Cup would be the most important thing that could mark the match for me,” said Hunter. “I’m extremely proud, but I wouldn’t be if I had it taken out of the game.”
We are now in knockout rugby and will not get a second chance. That should be the priority.” Individual awards are great, but we’re here for one reason. I think I won’t realize the real meaning of what it means until the tournament is over.”
The fear of not wanting to lose drives you to get better. This team will give it their all and we’ll see where that takes us.”
England: Helena Rowland; Lydia Thompson, Emily Scarratt, Tatyana Heard, Abby Dow; Zoe Harrison, Leanne Infante; Vickii Cornborough, Amy Cokayne, Sarah Bern, Zoe Aldcroft, Abbie Ward, Alex Matthews, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter (capt) Substitutions: Lark Davies, Hannah Botterman, Maud Muir, Rosie Galligan, Poppy Cleall, Lucy Packer, Holly Aitchison, Ellie Kildune
Australia: Pauline Piliae-Rasabale; Bienne Terita, Georgina Friedrichs, Sharni Williams, Lori Cramer; Arabella McKenzie, Layne Morgan; Liz Patu, Adiana Talakai, Bridie O’Gorman, Michaela Leonard, Grace Kemp, Emily Chancellor, Shannon Parry (capt), Grace Hamilton Substitutions: Tania Naden, Emily Robinson, Eva Karpani, Sera Naiqama, Piper Duck, Iliseva Batibasaga, Cecilia Smith , Mahalia Murphy
Kick-off: Sunday 1.30am – Waitakere Stadium, Auckland
Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr (Canada)