- Hunter believes strength of character vital against Wales
- England aiming for second-place finish
Captain Sarah Hunter believes the strength of character and collective self-belief shown by England Women in their six-try win over Italy has laid the groundwork for a high-stakes Six Nations finale against Wales this Sunday (kick off 2.30pm at Aberavon RFC).
This year’s campaign has had its high and lows, with England recording a 76-0 opening weekend victory over Scotland and subsequent losses to Ireland and France before returning to winning ways last Saturday against Italy.
With only one change for the trip to Wales, the Lichfield player says this is recognition of the efforts and performance the players delivered in the wake of back-to-back defeats: “In some respects, I think it’s rewarding the performance that we as a squad went out and achieved against Italy. Our second half probably wasn’t quite where we’d want it to be so there is room for improvement and being able to give that to the squad again and the team that started is a brilliant opportunity for us.”
“I think we had the belief within ourselves about our ability as individuals and collectively. We spoke a lot in the run up to Italy about actually going out there and having the intent, turning up and believing that we can compete. We are able players and we needed to show that, and I think that showed through, especially in the first half.
“I asked the girls to go out there and show everyone else what we all know of each other, about what quality rugby players we are and having that belief to try things. Mistakes are always going to happen but you don’t mind mistakes if you’re trying to do something positive and have that pride in wearing the shirt and putting in big, strong performances, which all the girls did on Saturday.”
Photo: RFU Archive
Hunter, who marked her 50th cap with a try last weekend, has had many halcyon days wearing the red rose but admits the past few weeks have counted among the most challenging in her England career.
“It’s certainly been a bit of a rollercoaster. Obviously, we started off quite well against Scotland and then our performances against Ireland and France weren’t performances that we were proud of. France was better than Ireland in terms of we did improve slightly, but we knew there was a lot more within us and it was really nice to see that ourselves as a squad could actually come out and start playing how we knew we could do against Italy. That was really pleasing and it shows how much we’ve grown as a squad.”
Gary Street’s side have found themselves in a state of flux but with a number of players coming of age during the tournament, the road ahead looks positive for the team, according to the flanker: “A lot of the younger players are really stepping up now – I think Amber Reed’s been fantastic throughout the squad and the performance Roz Crowley put in on Saturday was fantastic. People are really starting to come to the fore of this England squad now.
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché but you often do learn more from your losses than your victories and we certainly have done this time. If we can draw on the experiences and the times where it’s not going right in a game and turn that round and put in a performance to win the game and go on and show strength of character, that’s something that will stand us in really good stead for bigger competitions coming up and towards the World Cup next year.”
With qualification for the World Cup at stake for Wales and England in the hunt to finish second in the championship, it is all to play for on Sunday: “We have to go and win to finish second and now Ireland have won the Championship, that’s obviously our ultimate goal. We’ve got all the motivation that we need to finish as high as we can and we’ll have to go and put in a strong performance. Wales will be right up there competing with us because they have to win the game if they then want guaranteed qualification for the World Cup next year so they’ll have all the motivation they need as well to come out and put in a tough test. It certainly will be a competitive battle.”
“Wales at home are always very strong mentally; they’re such a passionate nation and rugby means everything to them. We need to match that and better it. They’ve got a really good, strong group of forwards and watching some of the footage this year from their Six Nations, they’ve got some really good backs with a lot of pace and a lot of flair of wanting to play rugby so we’ll have threats coming at us from all angles on Saturday. We need to know that we’ll be on top of our game to match that and ensure we come away with the victory.”