England: Red Roses win over Australia makes Sarah Hunter’s 138 caps record ‘even sweeter’
The Red Roses were 41-5 victors in Auckland on a day the veteran number eight achieved her 138th cap.
She scored the first of England’s seven tries, while Marlie Packer grabbed a hat-trick and Abbie Ward, Amy Cokayne and Alex Matthews also touched down to set up a semi-final with Canada next Saturday.
The 37-year-old Hunter told ITV: “I think the thing that tops it all off has been the win. That is the focus, we are in knockout rugby.
“Winning in this means the record-cap number is even sweeter. It has been so surreal, I have had the most amazing support.”
The skipper received a standing ovation from both sides when she came off in the 54th minute, saying afterwards that “never in a million years” did she think she would break Rochelle Clark’s record.
“I just wanted one cap. I just wanted to play for England. I kept hanging on, it is like an addiction – the feeling to play for your country. Hopefully there is more to come,” she said.
The Loughborough Lightning backrower admitted to keeping her mind off the record in the build-up to the Waitakere Stadium clash.
“I’ve tried not to think about it too much,” she said.
“But it’s a really special day, and now I can sit back and enjoy it.
“I just want to say thank you to my amazing team-mates and everyone who’s supported me throughout my career, from the age of nine to now.
“You know who you are, you’ve been immensely amazing for me and have made me the person and player I am today, I couldn’t have achieved the 138 caps without you, so thank you everyone.”
England head coach Simon Middleton remarked on the “difficult” conditions due to heavy rain in the first half, but said his side “managed the game brilliantly” as they extended their record winning run to 29 games.
About his captain, Middleton said: “Sarah Hunter, record performance and that is so Sarah. It would have been so easy to get distracted but she turned it on.”
Hunter’s fellow backrower Packer dedicated her player-of-the-match performance to two-year-old son Oliver.
“Everything about this is about him,” said the Saracens flanker.
“I am here to do a job with England and to put those performances in, not just for me or Oliver but for the team.
“Australia were fantastic today but we will build from this to the next one.”
Australia centre Sharni Williams said: “I’m obviously pretty gutted, we love to win.
“We did absorb a lot of pressure. We knew England were going to come out firing and that’s what they did.
“That first half we should be really proud of our efforts. Obviously couldn’t hold on for that full 80 minutes.
“It doesn’t stop here, though.
“We really need everyone around Australia to continue to support the Wallaroos, not just at World Cups, not just at little events, but it’s all that (support for domestic competition) Super W as well.”