Sarah Hunter exclusive interview: ‘I’ll make sure I enjoy going out in front of the home crowd’

Sarah Hunter exclusive interview: ‘I’ll make sure I enjoy going out in front of the home crowd’

Sarah Hunter was 16 before she discovered England had a women’s Test rugby team.

Some 21 years later, the Red Roses captain will bring down the curtain on a record-breaking career that has blazed a trail for the women’s game.

The 37-year-old will win an all-time Red Roses record 141st cap in Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland in her hometown of Newcastle, before retiring on the spot.

Hunter’s first and last steps in rugby union will be taken in the North East.

When she started out at the Novocastrians club she could not put a finger on any female rugby role models. As she closes out her career at Kingston Park, Hunter is the one the youngsters idolise.

Talk about transformative for representation. What the teenage Hunter could not see, now anyone can be.

Eight years as captain, a 2014 World Cup triumph and finals in 2017 and 2022, 10 Six Nations titles and nine Grand Slams – if anyone deserved to go out on their own terms it is the indomitable England No 8.

“When I grew up, I started playing Rugby League, so I became the biggest Wigan fan,” Hunter told Standard Sport.

“So players like Jason Robinson, Andy Farrell, Shaun Edwards, they were the players that inspired me.

“It wasn’t until really late on that I had female players to look up to. I didn’t know there was an England rugby team until I was 16, but even then I didn’t know who those players were.

“I went to see a game but then you didn’t see them again, because you didn’t see them on social media, on TV, in newspapers. You couldn’t have female role models because you just couldn’t see them.

“When I switched to Rugby Union Richard Hill became my idol, I wanted to be like him.

“When I got into the England pathway, I saw Georgia Stevens, and I wanted to emulate her.

“The great thing about the Red Roses team is that we’re all unique in terms of how we play, what our strengths are, what we look like, what we sound like, what our hobbies are, what our personalities are.

“So young girls can look and see us, especially on social media, and say ‘well, she looks like me, I sound like her, I play rugby like her’. Everything has changed.

Trailblazer: Hunter will go down in English rugby history after a remarkable career (AFP via Getty Images)
Trailblazer: Hunter will go down in English rugby history after a remarkable career (AFP via Getty Images)

“We all started from picking up a rugby ball at whatever age, doing it for the love of it, and hopefully we can show that anything’s possible.”

Hunter could have retired after the World Cup, and England’s agonising 34-31 defeat in the final to hosts New Zealand.

The opportunity to turn out on home turf at Newcastle proved too compelling however – as did the chance to set the tone for a new World Cup cycle.

Hunter will aim to drive England to one last win tomorrow, to earn the right to drink in the sentimental side of being able to retire on her own terms.

“I want to cherish the day, but what’s been fundamental through my whole career is that team performance must come first,” said Hunter.

“It will be a great way to sign off, but only if that performance comes.

“I’ll make sure I enjoy going out in front of the home crowd, but as soon as I’ve done that, the switch flicks, to right, we’re into game mode now, and that time on the pitch will be purely around that.

“I’m really excited to see where this new group of players can go, as we start the new cycle to the 2025 World Cup.”