Sarah Hunter reveals the three players she told about her England retirement
The 48 hours surrounding Sarah Hunter’s retirement announcement perfectly encapsulated the 16 years of her England career.
The 37-year-old only told her teammates the day before Tuesday’s announcement, the ever-humble Hunter not wanting to take attention away from the beginning of their Women’s Six Nations campaign.
Once the announcement had been made, there was no let-up as the back row was involved in the final double training session day of her athlete life, and she would not have done anything differently.
“I’m glad the announcement has been early in the week,” she said. “Now all the attention and focus can be purely on the team, ensuring we go out and perform and I go out and perform and there’s no distraction from that.
“I genuinely have been overwhelmed by the love, support, and kind messages. My phone has not stopped. I haven’t had the time to take it all in and get back to people but over the next couple of days, I will make sure I do.”
While most of the Red Roses squad found out on Monday, she did confide in three players, also expressing gratitude to head coach Simon Middleton for allowing her to retire one game into the defence of their Six Nations crown.
The first person she confided in was ex-England captain Katy Daley-Mclean, the two having met as teenagers before making their debuts together against Scotland in 2007.
They would lift the World Cup side-by-side in 2014, where they were joined by the other two players Hunter spoke to for advice, Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt and Emily Scarratt.
She added: “Katy’s done retirement and had to go through this process. I hoped that she might give me some guidance because she struggled with making the decision as well.
“That was good, and then I chatted with Mo and with Scaz about what my decision would be and what their thoughts were.
“Their reaction and response reaffirmed that I was making the right decision, which was nice as they are three people I really value and trust.”
Hunter will bow out in her native Newcastle at Kingston Park, a short walk from the pitches she first played rugby on and where she stood selling programmes just to get a glimpse of her beloved Newcastle Falcons.
She has played on the hallowed turf just once before, in October 2016 when her Bristol Ladies side took on DMP Sharks in a doubleheader.
Saturday’s clash with Scotland is a stand-alone fixture and was sold out long before Hunter’s announcement.
With friends, family and the whole of the rugby community in the North East wanting to say goodbye, she joked that for the first time ticket touts may be in operation outside a women’s rugby game.
But that is not too far-fetched a suggestion given how far the Red Roses, with Hunter as their leader, have taken the women’s game.
“It’s worlds apart from my debut, back then we didn’t have the same rose and we weren’t part of the same governing body,” she reflected.
“We were professional in our mindset, but we were amateur, we all had full-time jobs. I genuinely didn’t think I’d ever get to call myself a professional rugby player.
“The way England Rugby supports the Red Roses and how integral we are to what happens within English rugby has been amazing to see and to be part of.
“I feel really lucky to have been on that journey and to experience the transition and the change and the growth of the game.
“It hasn’t been easy at times, there have been real struggles and challenges but the love of wanting to play for your country overrides all of that.
“What’s really exciting now is that we’re in a brilliant place, but the opportunity of where this game can go and the Red Roses can go and the professionalism of women’s rugby can go is huge.
“We’ve only just scratched the surface of what it can be, and I think that’s a really exciting journey for this next generation of Red Roses to be on.”
It is another example of Hunter’s character. Even when she is looking at the changes she has seen, she ends up focusing on what others will get to experience.
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