Former England captain Sarah Hunter and ex-Scotland wing Megan Gaffney joined Kathleen McNamee to mark the 10-year anniversary of Ireland’s Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013. There Hunter dived into how professionalism progressed over the years in for women’s rugby in England and what Ireland might learn from that.
“I’ve probably seen an awful lot since my first cap in 2007” opens former England captain Sarah Hunter, who retired as recently as last month after 141 appearances for her country.
Having been a part of the journey since the England’s women’s rugby unit weren’t combined with the RFU, she witnessed first-hand the “challenges and barriers” that had to be overcome.
“I think it was 2012 that we became fully integrated as we are now and gradually the investment overtime changed” she explains.
“With more investment came professionalism with a small ‘p’ because we were still amateur, we weren’t full time at all until 2019 but whilst we weren’t paid fully you saw the increase of the support services with more coaches, more medical staff, more strength and conditioning, all of the stuff around a team that makes you a professional player but without actually getting paid to do it.”
Since then England have become major players on the world stage and continue to assert that dominance in this year’s Six Nations, a transition Hunter feels “really lucky” to have played a part in.
“Now I guess we’re actually really fortunate that I guess out of all of the home nations that play in the Six Nations we’ve been professional the longest since 2019…I didn’t think it was going to happen in my time if I’m honest…being able to call myself a professional player” she says.
“With that I think it’s just really skyrocketed where the game in England has gone and what England as a national team have been able to do. Winning tournaments, Six Nations and World Cups, generates that momentum and backs up that investment that England rugby have put into us.
“What’s really great now is that all nations have fully invested in their teams but it is more than just giving players money, you’ve got to invest in the whole game whether that’s at grassroots to develop the future generations or the support services around that.”
Reinforcing the point that “it’s not as simple as just giving players money”, she believes that when more nations start to provide resouces to the supplementory factors that that’s when “the gaps will close.”
“Hopefully in 10 year’s time who knows maybe Ireland rugby will have won another few grand slams” she concludes.
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