22 November 2019

England captain Sarah Hunter talks on eve of gaining her 119th cap, which draws her level with legend of the men's game Jason Leonard

England rugby captain Sarah Hunter says she is 'honoured' to be winning her 119th cap for England this weekend - a landmark that will see her become the joint second-highest capped England international of all time.

And it is an accolade she will share with rugby legend Jason Leonard, the pair are only beaten by Rochelle Clarke who has 137 caps to her name.

The 34-year-old said: "Yeah, it's an amazing honour and something I didn't realise until our communication manager mentioned it to me!

"Jason Leonard is a legend of the game worldwide so to be talked about in the same way, and to have the same number of caps that he's got, is incredible.

"It's certainly something very special, especially when you stop playing and you can look back and recognise what the achievement is.

"I think at the minute, because I'm still living and breathing playing for England, I don't think it's registered what an accolade it is really."

Jason Leonard won the World Cup in 2003 while gaining his 119 caps for England (PA Images)

Hunter's career has been one full of highlights - the forward has won the World Cup, captained England to Grand Slam victories and been a part of the generation of rugby players who have been awarded full-time paid contracts. 

Perhaps it's difficult to pick out a favourite?

Hunter says: "There have been a few! As a player you look back to when you first got capped, which is such a special moment. Ultimately the dream was to play for England.

"I also had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the World Cup winning team in 2014 and that will always be the best and most special moment of my entire life.

"To be able to say you're a world champion is incredible.

"Also, running out for my 100th cap was something I never envisaged or thought was at all possible so that was a brilliant moment that took me by surprise when it actually happened. The momentous occasion to represent your country 100 times is one of the significant moments that jumps out."

Hunter, middle, winning the Grand Slam this year (PA Images)

The Red Roses face Italy in what will be the number eight's 119th game for her country. The match is the last in the autumn internationals following two clashes with France. 

England will hope to keep their winning run going after defeating the French both home and away but with their performance looking a little shaky last weekend what does Hunter believe her team needs to improve upon to end 2019 on a high?

"We've got some work to do at the set piece. Our scrum was under a lot of pressure against France and we've been looking at that execution and accuracy.  

"We've looked at accuracy with ball in hand as well and looking at our breakdown a bit. We just need to be a bit more accurate. When we got into the right areas of the field last weekend we either got points or created opportunities."

Hunter after the last minute win last weekend (PA Images)

Head coach Simon Middleton hailed Hunter after she scored two tries in the first game in this series to seal England's first win in France for seven years and there is a mutual respect.

Hunter said: "I've worked with Simon for a long time now and I think he's so knowledgeable about the game. He's so passionate about the team and about what England rugby can do.

"He is that motivator for us to strive to be the best team in the world. The work ethic that he puts in ultimately drives us to be better game by game. The view and ambition of where he wants this team to be is infectious and he sees the potential this team has.

"He motivates us every day to become better players, better people and a better team and I couldn't think of a better person for the job."

England vs Italy will kick off at 3pm on Saturday and is available to watch on Sky Sports.

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