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Sarah Hunter thrilled as Stadium of Light announced as 2025 Women's Rugby World Cup opening venue

Sarah Hunter of England arrives at Kingston Park for her final appearance for England (Photo by Chris Lishman/MI News/NurPhoto)NO USE FRANCE (MI News via Reuters Connect)

Sarah Hunter says Sunderland is the 'perfect' place to kick off the 2025 Rugby World Cup as the north looks to continue accelerating the growth and inclusivity of the women’s game.

The pinnacle of the sport will return to England for the first time in 15 years in just over 18 months’ time, with the Stadium of Light officially announced as the host of the opening game where the Red Roses will get the showpiece underway.

Born and bred in North Shields, England legend Hunter is thrilled to see the north receive such an honour and expressed the importance of including all corners of the country in the tournament with the hope of inspiring the next generation of Red Roses.

"We are bringing the best competition in the world for women's rugby back to England," she said.

"The fact that we're taking it around the country is brilliant as we get to show the world how inclusive we are as a nation, showcasing all corners of England trying to really grow the game everywhere.

"To start it all in the north-east, I'm a proud northerner and I might be biased but women and girls’ rugby is a real hotbed there.

“We’re making sure we go and celebrate the hard work that is being done to inspire young people and adults into the game, as players, fans or just trying something new.

"Sunderland really will be the perfect place to host the opening game of the World Cup."

The Red Roses fell to an agonising 34-31 defeat against New Zealand in the final of the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup, with Hunter at the helm as captain.

But the former player turned coach believes that a tournament on home soil is the key as John Mitchell's side look to turn their previous disappointment into 2025 triumph and emulate the unforgettable exploits of the Lionesses being crowned Euro 2022 champions at Wembley.

"There's nothing like having a home World Cup," said Hunter, who was part of the Red Roses team who finished runners-up at the 2010 showpiece in England.

"Hopefully having that advantage will be the thing that helps us go one step better in 2025.

"We've come so close and fallen short in the past two so home soil could be the push needed.

"You look at what happened with the Lionesses a Wembley and the impact that had, I only hope the same can be said for Twickenham in a couple of years."

Hunter retired from professional rugby after a historic 141 caps for the Red Roses in March 2023.

Within six months, the former England captain was the England defence coach as they soared to the inaugural WXV crown in New Zealand, a brand new experience and one she noted as making her the most scared she's been in a long time.

"I think back to when I retired in March and the WXV was not something I thought I would be involved in," she said.

"I had real doubts as to whether I was good enough or could do it.

"One of my biggest worries was, what if I had not done enough and failed to prepare them.

"That last New Zealand game, I don't think I've been as nervous as that in a long time because there's nothing really you can do as a coach.”

Hunter's nerves were quickly dispelled through her work with the Gallagher High Performance Pathway, funded by World Rugby.

Nominated by England Rugby ahead of the WXV, Hunter is now part of the programme intent on developing the number of female coaches within the game.

And with a home World Cup now on the horizon, Hunter admitted her contentment in being able to use her new managerial position to help inspire change in the game she loves.

"Gallagher and World Rugby are making a real difference in the women's game," she said.

"They tied in their coaching internship programme with the WXV, so each team nominated a coach intern to be part of the programme.

"In the run-up to WXV we had communication and cultural workshops to help build your skills as a coach and develop your styles and management.

"And within that you met the other people on the programme, people from all backgrounds and different countries who look at the game differently which was really interesting to hear and learn from.

"I feel really lucky since retiring as I've not felt that 'I wish I was still playing' feeling.

"Even that last game against New Zealand at the end, I was just so pleased for the girls and there was no part of me that wished I was out there on the pitch.

"I'm content in where I am and it affirms that I made the right decision to move to coaching when I did.”

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