“Italy away is always a tough proposition. They get a good crowd, with strong home support, and you have to expect the unexpected with Italy. They like to play the ball and play it from anywhere on the pitch with a game offload,” England’s Sarah Hunter told Sky Sports
Last update: 04/03/22 2:32 p.m.
Red Roses captain Sarah Hunter spoke exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of England’s Six Nations trip to Parma
England women’s skipper Sarah Hunter says the Red Roses should “expect the unexpected” from Italy when they take on the Azzurre in Parma on Sunday in the Six Nations.
After beating Scotland 57-5 in the first round of the tournament last Saturday, following a difficult start in Edinburgh, England will next travel to the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi to face Italy, who suffered a 39-first round defeat. 6 against France.
Unlike their male counterparts, Italy have consistently won victories in Six Nations campaigns over the past decade, winning a single wooden spoon and finishing second and third during that time, but have never beaten the England in 14 attempts.
Addressed exclusively to sky sports after training this week, England captain Hunter – who earned his 131st cap in a win over Scotland – said the Red Roses will have to focus against Italy, with loose play and likely offensive.
“Italy away is always a tough proposition,” Hunter said Sky sports.
“They usually have a good crowd, with solid home support, and you kind of have to expect the unexpected with Italy.
“They like to play the ball and play it from anywhere on the pitch through offloading play.
“They are a team that never give up. They will defend, do very well. They disrupted France’s free kick last Saturday when it came down to the touchline, so we have to expect threats from all over the pitch.
“But for us, we’re expecting that, but also focusing on what we want to do and how we build our performance from the game against Scotland.”
Heading into this year’s Six Nations, England have gone on a run of 18 Test victories (now 19) and as the reigning league title winners of 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Hunter said the team weren’t careful to talk about being favourites, but instead chose to focus on arch-rivals France and England in recent seasons.
“For us, we don’t look at that [being labelled as strong favourites],” she added.
“You can look at France and their two autumn wins against New Zealand and how adamant they were against them.
“They also have three of their home games, which gives them an advantage [including France vs England in Round 5]
“We don’t see it as a label of favourites, we focus on ourselves and the performances we want to achieve, and the way we want to play.
“So any pressure comes from within, rather than worrying about what people might write about us: favourites, no favourites, etc.
“It’s always very important to start a campaign with a win, and an overall win in terms of points.
“But when we look at the game, there are areas we want to improve. Our skills let us down at times, our unforced errors were quite high.
“It certainly didn’t look like a 57-5 game when we were there.
“We need to improve, but in the end we had to get this win to get the start we wanted.”
England were the first union in the world to become women’s rugby professionals, and Hunter says the players and the RFU are proud to have led the way in this regard.
She added hope that other nations, after Wales this season, will look to follow suit.
“It was huge to turn professional. It’s something we’ve always looked for in women’s football, whether it was us now or it was Gill Burns and the generation that started English women’s rugby.
“For the RFU to raise their hand and say we’re going to invest in our women, and we’re going to be the first to do that, they’re really proud to be this leading union in women’s football.
“And wanting other nations to follow. New Zealand are now pro, Wales are pro. There are semi-professional teams. And hopefully the more it goes the more it will follow.
“As an English women’s rugby player, we are really proud to be at this level.”