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#SJA2022: The case for Sarah Hunter

Ahead of the members vote for the Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Awards, we asked members of the SJA Academy to make their case for contenders to win sportsman, sportswoman and team of the year. MATTHEW COX with the case for Red Roses skipper Sarah Hunter ahead of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup final.

Sarah Hunter has enjoyed a record-breaking 2022 as the captain of the Red Roses, England women’s rugby union team.

The 37-year-old from North Shields equalled and surpassed Rochelle ‘Rocky’ Clark’s record 137 caps at this autumn’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand to be England’s most-capped rugby player.

The Loughborough Lightning star said: “To be in the same breath as her is pretty special.”

The record is another accolade to add to what was already an iconic career, boasting a World Cup win in 2014, and World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year award in 2016, as well as being awarded her MBE in 2015 for services to rugby.

This year’s World Cup is the back-row’s fourth, having appeared for the Roses in every tournament since 2010.

However, she still relishes the chance to play for her country at every opportunity.

She said: “Playing for England, it’s a real passion, it’s a real honour, I’m still so motivated to want to improve and to be a better player.”

She started in the victorious 2014 final against Canada, but the following tournament was her first as skipper, making Eden Park’s showpiece an opportunity to further bolster her CV.

She will be starting in the World Cup final again this weekend, this time as captain, as the Red Roses face New Zealand.

Hunter began playing rugby league aged nine at school, and first played domestic rugby union in 2004 for Lichfield Ladies, making her England debut just three years later.

This means her career has spanned over the seismic change in English women’s rugby as it became professionalised in 2019.

But despite her experience, Hunter is still at the forefront of the game as it evolves.

She added: “The really exciting thing is that I don’t think it has even scratched the surface.

“I think we will see in the next couple of years it going on to bigger and better things.”

It’s been far from plain sailing, though, for England’s no. 8.

In 2020 Hunter suffered a potentially career-ending nerve injury, which kept her out for 13 months, in which she admitted that she had to consider retirement as well as her future beyond rugby more generally.

She eventually returned off the bench in 2021’s Six Nations final as England beat France.

Since then, she has also captained the side to this year’s Six Nations triumph, but the success of this year’s Rugby World Cup on top of that makes 2022 a totemic year for Sarah Hunter: a captain, leader, and superb role model.

Full members can vote here for their full choice.