Sarah Hunter is confident England can inspire a new generation of rugby players in the country’s North East when they kick off Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 in Sunderland.
It was announced on Monday that the Red Roses will begin their quest for a third Women’s Rugby World Cup title at the 49,000-capacity Stadium of Light on 22 August, 2025.
Speaking at an event at the stadium to mark the occasion, North-East native Hunter admitted that news the tournament would get underway in the region had made the “hairs on the back of my neck stand up”.
“I’m really passionate about the North East and bringing rugby here, and hopefully just keeping the growth of the game building and getting girls and boys into it,” the world’s most-capped women’s player added.
Red Roses transition coach Hunter grew up a few miles north of Sunderland in North Shields and her first steps on a rugby pitch were taken as a junior at Newcastle Falcons.
It was also at a sold-out Kingston Park that her record-breaking playing career came to an end earlier this year, but on Monday she detailed how she had to make the long trip south to London as a nine-year-old to watch international rugby.
That is just one of the reasons why she is so excited that Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 will be heading to Sunderland in 20 months’ time.
“I wish I was a bit younger, so I could have another crack at a home World Cup!” Hunter joked as she prepared to lead a coaching session for 60 young women’s and girls’ players from the city on the Stadium of Light pitch.
“Every World Cup I’ve known or been part of has always been in one city. To take it around the country, there’s probably two things; for a player, you get to experience that in terms of going to different venues and you have different welcomes.
“And I think it’s also really important about where the game is, how we grow the game and I guess the organising committee and England Rugby and World Rugby have a commitment to keep growing the game.
“By doing that and taking it around England, I think they're living up to that and I think it's great for those surrounding areas to inspire that next generation.
“It's something that as England Rugby we've done over the last few years with our Six Nations games, and we've seen the real benefit of it.
“You know, at Red Roses games, you see so many young girls in their club shirts coming, and they might have started because they came along as a fan and now they're playing or now they're inspired to be that next Red Rose.”
She added: “We’re going to be bringing the World Cup here and we're going to be bringing the best players in the world here and showcasing just how far the game has come.
“So, maybe some of those nine-year-old girls that come along, in a few World Cups’ time, they could be pulling on the white shirt of England.”
According to Managing Director, Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025, Sarah Massey, the organising committee has taken learnings from other recent events held in England, such as UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 to ensure the tournament has the biggest impact possible.
“For us, this tournament is all about visibility. I know it’s a real cliché to say, but if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” Massey said.
“If you don't see the event and you don't see those role models, then you don't believe that you can be part of it. And I think that inspiration that the Lionesses had – and so many other of the major women's sports have at the moment – means that women and girls do feel that there is a place for them in sport.
“We’ll make sure that people then do take up [those opportunities] and start playing more.”
Canada, England, France and New Zealand have already qualified for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 after finishing in the top four at RWC 2021, with the remaining positions to be filled via WXV and regional competitions in 2024. Commercial demand also continues to grow with four official partners – Mastercard, Capgemini, Gallagher and Mitsubishi Electric – already on board for England 2025.
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