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England’s Hunter relishing Gardens debut this weekend

Sarah Hunter has never played at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens before, but she will get the chance to grace what is now her ‘home from home’ this weekend.

That is because the Red Roses – England’s women’s team – square up to New Zealand in Northampton this Sunday (kick-off 2.45pm), in a rematch of last weekend’s record-breaking 43-12 win over the Black Ferns.

The game will have extra significance for Hunter, who skippered England in the first match, as her club side Loughborough Lightning recently announced a new partnership with Saints which sees Northampton enter the elite women’s game and continue to grow grassroots women’s rugby in the East Midlands.

“I’m really looking forward to this game,” she said. “We’ve been travelling around the country with the Red Roses for a little while, so to come to Franklin’s Gardens is really exciting.

“It’s such a hotbed for rugby and I’m told it’s such a great stadium to play at. I was at the Club the other week and I saw how fresh the grass is, so to be able to play one of the biggest games we could have, against New Zealand, there is really exciting.

“I’ve never played there but the women’s Premiership final was played there a couple of seasons ago, and I know how much the girls enjoyed it. We’re all looking forward to running out there in a white shirt.”

Hunter is now one of Saints’ Women’s Rugby Ambassadors thanks to the Club’s new partnership with Loughborough.

Lightning – who have reached the semi-finals of the last two Allianz Premier 15s seasons – have become a joint Loughborough Lightning / Northampton Saints elite women’s team.

Both partners are looking to ensure ongoing success for the side at the pinnacle of professional English rugby, as well as growing the audience for women’s and girls’ rugby in the East Midlands and beyond – and it is a relationship that Hunter is hugely excited about.

She added: “Saints are one of the historic teams in men’s rugby, while Loughborough Lightning has been one of the leading teams in the women’s Premiership, so it’s great for Saints to partner with us.

“They’re looking to grow the game in Northamptonshire and what’s really pleasing, having spoken to [Saints Chief Executive] Mark Darbon, is the values and ethos of Saints is really strong and what Loughborough live by.

“It’s two strong rugby clubs working together to grow the women’s game and it’s really exciting to see where we can take that.”

Sarah Hunter

While those of a Saints persuasion can now keep a close eye on Loughborough’s results, the same is true in reverse.

“The girls definitely talk about how Saints are getting on and how they’re doing,” Hunter said.

“We certainly watch the games if they’re on TV, and Saints have started their season well. In the partnership, you want to hold your own and we want to pull our weight as well, so hopefully we can turn some of our results around a bit as we go on.

“We haven’t had the best of starts with Loughborough, winning one of five games, which has been frustrating. We missed quite a few people through World Cup qualifiers and then a few injuries, so we’ve had a fairly young side.

“Playing some of the best sides in the league to start off has been quite challenging but we’ve stayed together as a team, worked through and hopefully we’ve got better and problem-solved.

“Obviously now we’re in an international break but I feel like we were starting to turn the corner, and hopefully when we come back in the end of November we can kick on then.”

Almost 9,000 tickets have already been sold for England’s game against New Zealand at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend – book your seat now HERE.

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