Former England captain Sarah Hunter admits it is a dream to know the North East will host the opening fixture of the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
It was confirmed on Monday by World Rugby and Rugby Football Union that the Red Roses will kick off the tournament at Sunderland’s 48,707-seater Stadium of Light on August 22, with the final set to take place at Twickenham on September 27.
Hunter, who was born in North Shields, bowed out from the international game in March after playing her 141st Test against Scotland at Newcastle’s Kingston Park and is excited about a new generation being inspired by this fixture.
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“When I knew the North East was getting a game, I was so excited and when I heard it was the opening game with the Red Roses, honestly it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up,” Hunter said.
“I am so proud to be from the North East and I know how much sport means to people here.
“The game is massive here and I think because we’re so far away, we sometimes get forgotten about, but to rubber-stamp it by hosting that first game here, we can show everyone how great the people are and what a great host city it can be.
“To know it could spark someone to either start rugby or want to continue it and hopefully in three or four World Cups’ time there can be players in the Red Roses team who were here because that is what they needed to generate that excitement and inspiration to want to play rugby.”
Hunter was a key figure the last time England hosted the World Cup in 2010, but the majority of fixtures for that tournament were played at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford.
After leading her country to the World Cup final against hosts and eventual winners New Zealand last year, the current England transitional coach is proud of the game’s continued growth.
She added: “I’ve been a couple of times to the Stadium of Light but I’m not going to lie, I’ve been to St James’ Park a few more times! But it’s an incredible stadium.
“My first (Test) cap at Old Albanian Rugby Club was in front of 200 people, the first World Cup I played was a home World Cup and we played our Pool games at Surrey Sports Park, which at the time was the right venue.
“So, to come to the Stadium of Light for the opening game and to have the atmosphere that will be generated, to be playing in stadiums of this calibre has been the dream.
“I am so excited and in some respects, I wish I was a little bit younger so I could have another crack at a home World Cup!
“Now going back into the team on a coaching capacity, you want to be performing in your home World Cup.
“Having played in the last two and fallen short in the final, we will definitely set our eyes on winning this home World Cup.”