Sarah Hunter: England captain 'gutted' to miss Italy game in Six Nations
England captain Sarah Hunter on missing out against Italy, playing amid the coronavirus pandemic and being inspired by Marcus Rashford; England Women go in search of another Six Nations Grand Slam when they play Italy, live on Sky Sports Arena at 4.30pm on Sunday
By Gail Davis, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 28/10/20 2:29pm
It is going to be a bittersweet weekend for Sarah Hunter. She has already led England to Six Nations glory but will miss out on the chance to seal the Grand Slam in Italy. Here she talks to Gail Davis about injuries, playing amid the coronavirus pandemic and being inspired by Marcus Rashford.
Hunter had hoped to be in Parma this weekend guiding England to a double Grand Slam against Italy, but the England captain will be forced to watch from her sofa after being ruled out with a hamstring injury picked up on Saturday playing for her club Loughborough Lightning.
"It's the worst possible timing," Hunter told Sky Sports News.
"I am so gutted. After an eight-month wait I was just desperate to finish the job, but we have a great squad going out there and I am confident they can do it.
"As a player you just want to play in the big games. The medics and coaches are right, though, even though it's been a long wait to play for England. I know the season is going to be demanding and I don't want to make it worse. I should only be out for a few weeks."
So, the sofa it is. The rest of the team, who were confirmed as Six Nations champions last weekend after France failed to beat Scotland, meet up this week before heading in their bubble to Italy.
While there has been coronavirus testing during the international training camps, there has not for the league season, but that has kept the girls diligent and extra careful says Hunter.
"Life is pretty dull and boring, but I think everyone understands how lucky they are and how important this is," she said. "We are privileged to be playing when you think the community game isn't back yet."
The rules have been modified in the Allianz Premier 15s to lower the risks of spreading Covid-19 given the lack of testing. Fewer scrums, more ball in play and a faster game.
"I think like everyone at the minute we're just adapting to what life throws at us. The rules do make for a slightly different game, but we are back doing what we love."
It is a return to the old rules for this Grand Slam game and, with a wry smile, Hunter says: "There might be a few sore props the morning after."
This is about backing up last season's Grand Slam, but there is also one eye on what is coming up next year. New Zealand host the World Cup and, having been beaten by the Black Ferns in the final three years ago, England need to keep winning big games in the build-up.
"We need to keep learning, understand how to get it right, grow and build confidence together as a team," added Hunter.
After her disappointing personal news Hunter has at least had something else to focus on this week.
She is covering the cost of vouchers for every family that needs them over the half-term at Benton Dene Primary School in North Shields.
"I've been following Marcus Rashford's story since lockdown and how it has materialised over the last few months and then last week with the big vote in Parliament which I think was wrong," she said.
"I think people that need it should have been provided for, especially during the holidays.
"I thought, 'I'd like to do something to support this', so I got in touch with my old primary school.
"I've still got really close ties to it, my niece goes there and my mum is a governor and lot of my friends from home have children that go there.
"I just thought that's the connection. It's where I first started playing rugby and if it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't be in this position today."
Hunter is helping around 90 children who are eligible for free school meals.
"It's not about me feeling good," she says. "But hopefully other members of the community will help too.
"You only need to look at Marcus Rashford's timeline over the last week to see the impact of what can be done when communities come together.
"It's huge and he (Rashford) has been through it and knows exactly what these children are experiencing.
"He is such an incredible inspirational role model. Sport and all these local communities and businesses are getting behind it and what makes it even more special is that it's a time of hardship for this country.
"Everyone is facing their own unique challenges and yet people are still finding a way to say yes.
"Businesses might be closing and places might not be able to open, but they're finding a way to provide something for the children who so badly need it.
"Lots of people have lost jobs or lost hours and regular income. It's a stressful time. They are thinking, 'How am I going to feed my children? If I feed them then can I heat the house today, can I go without food?'. And does that mean they can't go to work? So I contributed in a little way."
Hunter believes real change must come, adding: "The child food poverty taskforce needs to protect the next generation, they're the future leaders of this country we have to do something to help them."
Listening to her speak, it is clear to see why she is England's captain. She might not be able to make her presence felt in Italy but she is certainly doing it in other ways.