World Cup winner. World Player of the Year in 2016. Six Nations Grand-Slam-winner. Captain of the best women’s rugby team on the planet. Sarah Hunter’s trophy cabinet must be bulging with all that silverware, but what is it about her game that makes her one of the most decorated and well-respected players in the world?
Position: Number 8
Debut: 2007 (v Scotland)
Club Team: Bristol
Tackling: This is one of the staples of back-row play, and Hunter excels in this area. She very rarely misses tackles and often stops opponents in their tracks, even when they’re much bigger than she is.
Mobility and fitness: Hunter gets through an enormous amount of work and covers a huge amount of ground. She’s a tireless worker, often doing the hard graft in the rucks and mauls, and she’s incredibly mobile, getting across to cover line-breaks and working hard to fill any gaps in the defensive line. She puts her absolute all into every game she plays and is instrumental to the Red Roses’ recent success.
Scrums: Hunter is, without doubt, one of the best operators at the back of the scrum in the world (in both the men and women’s game). Her ability to pick up the ball and make metres when her pack is being shoved backwards at a rate of knots is no mean feat in terms of skill, and her quick pick-ups often stop England giving up a scrum penalty or being turned over. In fact, here’s another one to savour – see how Hunter’s quick pick-up allows the backs to attack and get well over the gain line, generating quick ball from the resultant ruck.
Mauls: The Red Roses’ attacking maul is an enormous strength of theirs and Hunter plays her part in them, but it is defensive mauls where she shines. She is very good at getting to the ball carrier and latching onto the ball, using all her strength to prevent the opposition from being able to play the ball and winning the penalty.
Leadership: I think this video from her team-mates says it better than I ever could. And the pride with which she talks about representing her country and leading the team in that video is a true measure of the person and player she is: humble, hard-working and immensely focused on getting the best out of herself and her team.