Sarah Hunter believes England’s Rugby World Cup campaign is perfectly timed to try to “carry on the momentum” generated by the Lionesses’ stunning Euro 2022 success.
The baton for British women’s sport will soon be passed to England captain Hunter and company as the Red Roses aim for a World Cup triumph in New Zealand.
Currently ranked number one in the women’s game – and by a distance – they have also won the last four Six Nations titles and crushed perceived World Cup rivals New Zealand 43-12 and 56-15 on each other at weekends last autumn.
Hunter, who starred when England won the World Cup in Paris eight years ago, knows there will be significant expectations and pressure.
But she says the squad has been “buzzing” after England’s 2-1 win over Germany at Wembley, which gave the Lionesses a first major trophy and the first for an England senior team since the 1966 World Cup.
“As a female sports player, it’s been amazing to see how the nation has gotten behind them,” Hunter told the PA news agency.
“You expect that with the England men’s football team, but for everyone to be talking about it, for it to be all over the TV, the papers, social media, it just feels like a real turning point, not just for football but for women. the sport as a whole.
“I am inspired by what they have done. They have gone all the way to win an EC on home soil, which is incredible and wonderful to see.
“I watched the final on TV and when the cameras panned around the stadium you saw a lot of young girls and you thought this is what they now expect and they can grow up and say ‘I want to be Leah Williamson, I want to be Chloe Kelly’.
“My nine-year-old niece was there – her first England game – wearing a Lionesses shirt and it was pretty cool.
“I think it would be brilliant going forward how the two teams can learn from each other, how some of the things they do can transfer to rugby and vice versa.”
The Red Roses are currently building towards games against the USA in Exeter and Wales in Bristol next month.
Their World Cup opener is against Fiji in Auckland on October 8, with France and South Africa completing England’s pool as Hunter and company look to go one better than five years ago when they suffered one last heartbreak at the hands of New Zealand .
“When we got to training on Monday, everyone was buzzing,” added Hunter, who is the second most capped player in women’s international rugby history with 134 Test appearances.
“There was a sense of ‘they’ve done it, now we want to go and do it too’.
“People are now talking about women’s sport, they want to know when the next football game is and how they can go and watch it, or what’s happening in rugby.
“The World Cup has probably come at a great time to continue the momentum. We are under no illusion that traveling to New Zealand is going to be a very difficult prospect.
“And you throw in the challenge of a different time zone and still trying to engage with the fan base at home, but if we can perform and ignite the excitement that the Lionesses have done, then hopefully the nation will get behind us and follow us on our journey.
“We’ve managed some pretty big expectations along the way – the games against the Black Ferns (New Zealand) last autumn, the Six Nations have just gone.
“When you’re number one, people want to come and take you away from that spot and I guess when you’re up there, there’s a greater expectation from that.
“When you’re at the top, you have to keep moving forward. As soon as you stop and exhale, that’s when the teams come after you.”