Women's Six Nations: England captain Sarah Hunter tipped as future coach

Sarah Hunter (second from right) in action for Loughborough Lightning
Sarah Hunter (second from right) says she "loves" her player-coach role at Loughborough
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Dates: 2 February-18 March
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England captain Sarah Hunter, who will lead the Red Roses in the Six Nations campaign, has been backed as a potential national coach of the future.

Hunter is player-coach at Loughborough Lightning in the Tyrrell's Premier 15s.

"There is absolutely no reason she couldn't [do my job] but, hopefully for me, not in less than four years," said England head coach Simon Middleton.

"She's learning in the toughest environment the women's game has to offer outside international rugby."

The highly scrutinised appointment of Phil Neville as the new England women's football coach has brought the question of female coaches back into the spotlight.

Hunter is still finding her way in the coaching arena, as the 32-year-old also juggles playing for club and country, but she is enjoying the challenge.

"I wasn't sure that it would be this much hard work when I started but I've now got the balance," she said.

"It's hard doing both on the pitch at the same time - watching a line-out while trying to lift isn't easy."

Loughborough Lightning were the surprise package when the Premier 15s competition was announced.

The quickly assembled team based at the university campus in the Midlands have surprised many by how quickly they have settled into the league, and are comfortably nestled mid-table looking upwards.

Securing the England captain's services was a coup for Loughborough and she works alongside head coach Rhys Edwards, who previously led Wales women.

"I'm loving being at Loughborough," said Hunter.

"I also look after the student side on a Wednesday, so I'm given a lot of responsibility in different ways.

"I'm supported really well by Rhys and also the wider Loughborough team, but to go to work and to do something you love is fantastic."

Jo Yapp pictured at an England training session
Former England international Jo Yapp is one of only three female coaches in the country with the level four qualification

In the men's England set-up Eddie Jones has openly discussed plans to find his successor, but there is less debate around the women's camp.

Hunter is one of a number of names being quietly mentioned for future international coaching honours.

England's most capped player, prop Rochelle Clarke, is a qualified level three coach and is in charge of Chesham Stags men's team alongside former Red Roses wing Kat Merchant.

Until recently Wasps head coach Giselle Mather was the only female level four qualified coach in the country but she has been joined this season by former England internationals Jo Yapp and Susie Appleby.

Former England captain Yapp is coach of the England Under-20s while Appleby leads Gloucester-Hartpury.

There are other female coaches in the Premier 15s, including Kim Oliver at Bristol and Karen Findlay at Harlequins, but none in the England camp, although Yapp has assisted in the past.

The talent pool is evident in the English game, something other nations lack. Of the 12 countries at the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup there was just one female head coach in Jo Hull, who led Hong Kong.

Hunter is not considering her future just yet. The current focus is preparing for the Six Nations at Bisham Abbey with England as they look to defend their Grand Slam title, starting away in Italy on Sunday.

Now capped 101 times, the 2014 world champion is an elder stateswoman in the England set-up and as cliches go for the Six Nations, she is well versed.

"You can't look further than the first game at hand," she insisted.

"It doesn't matter what games come next, if we don't get the Italy game right then that makes the rest of the Six Nations very difficult."

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