Sarah Hunter is captain of the England Women rugby team and will be leading the side into the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland this month. Having won the competition in 2014 she will be looking to triumph again.
Rugby Monthly caught up with her during a rare afternoon off to talk all things rugby . . .
RM “Is it true that you nearly never played rugby union, so life could have taken you in a completely different direction from where you have ended up now?”
SH “Absolutely! I am a proud Geordie so the whole family is football mad. We had season tickets for Newcastle United FC and the only rugby I played was League. When that wasn’t an option I found a rugby union club. I was only 9.
There weren’t many Union clubs in our area so mum and dad spent hours ferrying me everywhere to play so I owe them everything. They became rugby lovers and ended up washing the team kit and cleaning boots like the other parents. I genuinely believe that without them I would not be where I am today.”
RM “So they definitely had a big impact on your early career, do they still follow your success now?”
SH “They come to pretty much every game they can. They are absolutely amazing in the support they still give me and I always look out for them. I know they are there for me whatever the match result. I vividly remember after losing the World Cup final in 2010 I was absolutely sobbing and all I wanted was to see them. I found them and I just broke down. I had nothing left in me but they knew exactly how to pick me up. That’s what they do for me. Also, they now seem to plan their holidays around our fixtures which is great!”
RM “Women’s rugby is going through some very exciting times with the start of the new Super League looming. Is that something you expected?”
SH “To be honest I think this is the path that Women’s rugby needs to take for the domestic game to get to the next level in the professional arena. At present there is a bit of a discrepancy between some clubs in terms of what they can provide. We have seen similar models work well in women’s football and netball. The game needed some proper funding and it’s great that the RFU have done this.
RM “So do you think they have got it right in inviting 10 teams to compete at this level”
SH “Yes, it will obviously take time for things to settle down and the first 6 months or so will be very interesting for everyone, but long term I think it can only be a good thing. The clubs can now see what top elite sport looks like. They can work closely with the RFU to produce great players across the board without the constant struggle for funding externally. The clubs will have full time coaches, physios and S&C etc so it has to be a positive for everyone.”
RM “So it’s great for the clubs and players already involved, do you think it will benefit other players that are perhaps new to the game or at smaller clubs?”
SH “Definitely. Regardless of where players are now they have a route to play at a higher level at the super league clubs. As part of being in the league the clubs are committed to work closely with their community so even if you are picking up a rugby ball for the first time, you are doing it in an environment that can only help you to develop more and become a better player than before.”
RM “You have had an amazing couple of years winning the World Player of the Year, being awarded the MBE and now being named as Captain for your Country, do you sometimes have to pinch yourself?”
SH “Ha Ha, I do! It has been amazing and I could never have expected any of this when I first started playing all those years ago. I started playing the game because I just love rugby, and I still do. Things haven’t always gone to plan and I have had some low times but I always had a real ambition to play for England so I just worked harder and harder and learnt as much as I could. I guess I was also in the right place at the right time and the rest is history!”
RM “So the Rugby World Cup is just around the corner and you will be leading out the Red Roses as Captain. Does that add extra pressure on you and do you feel the expectation of the Country given you are now ranked #1 in The World?”
SH “To be honest I never had an ambition to captain my Country. As a player it’s not your decision to make so all your focus is on your game. It’s a very specific decision for the Coach and they know what they are looking for. You can only be the player that you are and that will either be right for them or not. I guess Simon decided I had what he was looking for and it is a huge honour to be asked. But the only pressure is what you put on yourself. Naturally, there are people who will just expect us to turn up and win! If only! This will be a tough World Cup. All we know is that whoever we face each game we have to be the very best we can be. It will be one game at a time. We have trained exceptionally hard for this and I think we are the best prepared we could possibly be. There are some tough teams in the competition but we have an amazing squad and we are definitely looking forward to the challenge ahead!”
RM “There has been a lot of talk recently about forming a “Lionesses” team, do you think this will ever take off?”
SH “We were very lucky to have met up with the British & Irish Lions while we were in NZ recently and the atmosphere around them was just amazing, so to be part of something like that would be great. I think the strength in depth in the home teams and the women’s game now is so good that coming together could be a really good thing! I think the format would have to change slightly and the opposition would have to be looked at but I think in principle The Lionesses would be pretty special.”
RM “It might seem a strange question to ask just before a World Cup, but do you ever think of what you might like to do when you finish playing rugby?”
SH “I don’t have any specific plans but I do feel that it’s important to think about it while you are still in the game. “What do I want to do post rugby?” I currently work for the RFU and I love my role with them, but I also really love coaching the game. I have a very keen interest in high performance sport so to combine all of these passions would be great.”
RM “We know your life at the moment is pretty hectic to say the least, what do you enjoy doing outside of the game during your down time?”
SH “Believe it or not I do have a bucket list with things like Snowboarding, Skiing and sky diving on it but I don’t seem to be ticking them off very quickly as I’m not allowed to do any of them for obvious reasons at the moment! Catching up with family and friends are the most important though, but I also like a bit of retail therapy, going for a coffee and watching the endless hours of TV that I have to record due to being away so much!”
Sarah Hunter is arguably one of the greatest players in Women’s rugby history. That takes a huge amount of dedication, ambition, sacrifice and commitment.
Off the field she is humble, grounded, generous with
her time and has a great sense of humour.
We wish her, and the whole England Women’s family, the greatest of success in the upcoming World Cup