Clifford honoured to share England debut with Hunter farewell

Kelsey Clifford's cameo in the win over Scotland was her first appearance in an England shirt, while Sarah Hunter retired after 141 caps

Kelsey Clifford came off the bench at Kingston Park to make her Red Roses debut

By Tom Masters, Sportsbeat

Saturday was a day that will forever be remembered as Sarah Hunter’s final England appearance but for Kelsey Clifford it was the start of her England dream.

The Saracens prop came off the bench at Kingston Park to make her Red Roses debut as Simon Middleton’s side began their latest TikTok Women’s Six Nations title defence with a 58-7 win over Scotland.

Clifford, 21, was playing for England U20s only last season and her selection marked her meteoric rise at a hugely exciting time for women’s rugby in England, with the 2025 World Cup firmly on the horizon.

She said: “It was an amazing achievement. You don’t really expect it to come, but when it does, you have to grab it with both hands.

“It was quite weird singing the national anthem. I spoke to a couple of players before and they were told me to just soak it all in, it is going to be an amazing atmosphere – and it was.

“I think she (Hunter) is everything you read about the ultimate captaincy. She leads by example.

“When she is speaking, you are listening - it is that kind of environment, obviously I have only played against her before in the Allianz Premier 15s, so it was nice that her last cap was my first and I got to play with the legend that is Sarah Hunter.”

Six Nations Rugby, the official organising body responsible for the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, broke all fan engagement records in 2022 and highlighted its commitment to giving the women’s game the best possible platform to grow.

The 2023 edition of the Championship stands to build on this progress, with even bigger crowds expected, more international broadcasters covering all the action and unprecedented social and digital promotion for the heroes of the women’s game.

It is the first time Clifford has been a part of a Red Roses camp, but she has quickly settled in and embraced the set piece plans that are in place, with England putting significant pressure on the Scottish scrum all game.

She added: “The set piece is a massive thing and we have been building it, they said in camp they have been building on it for the last three years.

“When we put the ball in, it is about giving the backs something to play off and when we don’t have the ball, we have as much power to go and get that ball back.

“So the focus was a solid platform for us and then attack for them.”

In the midst of a TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign there is very little time to dwell on the previous match and with Hunter retiring, all eyes turn to Marlie Packer, who takes on the captaincy after co-captaining against Scotland with Hunter.

Clifford knows all about playing under Packer, with the flanker having guided Saracens to Allianz Premier 15s glory last year.

“Obviously she has been captain of Saracens, so I have witnessed first-hand the leader she is, she very much leads by example,” she added.

“She got Player of the Match against Scotland and she has a presence both on and off the pitch, so I have no doubt she is going to step up and fill that role as well as she possibly can.”

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