- England Women's No. 8 primed for hostile atmosphere
- “We’ve moved on, regrouped and we’re focussed on getting back to winning ways” – Hunter
Sarah Hunter is braced for a hostile atmosphere across The Channel on Saturday as England Women begin their Six Nations campaign, but also believes her side have the togetherness and determination necessary to secure a victory over France.
Hunter starts at No. 8 in an impressive back row completed by flankers Maggie Alphonsi and Marlie Packer as Gary Street looks to build momentum ahead of this summer’s Rugby World Cup.
Having beaten this weekend’s opponents and Canada in the autumn series on these shores just a matter of months ago, England have banished the memory of a difficult summer that saw them sink to a 3-0 series defeat in New Zealand.
However, Hunter was quick to emphasise that Les Bleus are a different proposition away from home.
“France in France is a notoriously difficult for us,” she said. “There is always a partisan crowd and you always know who they are supporting. They’re very in your face with wanting the French team to do well.
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“You never quite know what they are going to bring to the party but they always have a very dominant forward pack with some strong ball-carriers and powerful runners that we’re going to have to deal with because it sets the tone for the rest of their team.
“If they get on top they have exciting backs that can cause us problems. We’re going to have to go out there with lots of tempo.”
Highlighting the lessons learned from last season’s setbacks, Hunter praised Street and assistant Graham Smith for creating strength in depth across the squad and expressed her confidence in England’s experienced, well-rounded match-day group.
Finally, looking back on the rare luxury of a full week’s preparation ahead of this tournament, the Lichfield star – who wins her 59th cap on Saturday in Grenoble – laid out her lofty ambitions for the competition.
“Our goal is to regain the trophy. We’re under no illusions about how tough that is going to be but we also want to send a message to say England are back and what happened last year is going to stay there. We’ve moved on, regrouped and we’re focussed on getting back to winning ways.
“We’ve never had a week’s preparation before a Six Nations game before and that’s been fantastic. We’ve been able to look at some little details and we’re tighter than we’ve ever been as a squad. The culture and the bond throughout the team is brilliant.”