Tearful Middleton hails Sarah Hunter as ‘the greatest England player of all time’

Simon Middleton hailed the retiring Sarah Hunter as the “greatest England player of all time” following the Red Roses’s opening Six Nations win over Scotland. The 37-year-old bowed out after a stellar career which included a record 141 caps and captaining the side to an unparalleled 30-match unbeaten streak. The England head coach, who said he shed a tear as Hunter walked off the pitch for the final time, heaped praise on the No 8.

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“She has been the face of the Red Roses for the last 10 years,” said Middleton, who will step down as England coach after the tournament. “I think because she has been such an incredible leader and such a diplomat for the game, people shouldn’t forget what an unbelievable player she has been.

“She never trains or plays poorly. She gives everything she has got to every session and everything she does. That is why she has been what she has been for so long. It is remarkable. She is England’s greatest player, all-in, without a shadow of a doubt. I can’t see how anyone could possibly – men’s or women’s – say there has been a better player.”

An emotional Hunter said of her career: “Never in a million years did I think it would last so long. I just wanted to get to a second cap so I wasn’t a one-cap wonder!

“I feel so lucky and privileged to be a part of great Red Roses teams over the years. I have been with some phenomenal teams. I didn’t think it would be the career I have had and to finish it here [Kingston Park] is what dreams are made of. It is so incredibly special – the perfect ending.”

Hunter, who was one of the first England players to receive a professional contract in 2019, also spoke about the legacy she leaves behind. “When you are young and just into the squad you just want to play but as you spend time in you take a step back.

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“I think that has also been driven by Midds [Middleton] about what the Red Roses want to be about.

Yes we want to win tournaments but sport is more than that, especially women’s sport and where it is now. What is the legacy we want to leave? How can we as individuals strive for that? There are so many young girls and boys, to inspire them to want to be a Red Rose or an England player, as they have such a bright future.

“‘I feel like we have just scratched the surface of the women’s game. I’ll hand the baton on to these Red Roses.”