By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
Sarah Hunter will be integral to England's Rugby World Cup victory bid both on and off the pitch, according to Red Roses legend Maggie Alphonsi.
The North Shields star only needs to play two matches in New Zealand to become England's most capped player of all time.
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She is currently two short of prop Rocky Clark, who starred alongside Hunter when the Red Roses last tasted World Cup glory in 2014.
Hunter is expected to lead England out when they kick off their campaign against Fiji on Saturday and Alphonsi underlined her importance to Simon Middleton's exuberant young team.
"The team is a blend of younger and experienced players but for most of them in that England team, this will be their first Rugby World Cup," said Alphonsi.
"So, to have the likes of Sarah Hunter bringing her experience to the team, it's significant because the players who haven't been there can just lean on her a little bit.
"She could potentially go on to be the most capped player in the England men's or women's team. If she achieves that accolade, it will be sensational."
Hunter's England are red-hot favourites going into the delayed tournament down under - having won a world-record 25 straight Tests.
Hunter has been a mainstay of that run and Alphonsi is full of admiration for the 37-year-old, who she believes has only improved with time.
"I remember her playing in my team back in 2010 and being in the back row with us," explained Alphonsi, who was meeting with women and girls who play for National Lottery-supported Haringey Rhinos RFC, to see for herself how National Lottery funding is having a positive impact on female participation at the club.
"Back then she was a talented athlete, but you weren't quite sure of the longevity of her career.
"Who would have thought that she would still be going as captain of the side many times now. She is a stalwart, a rock."
The upcoming World Cup is the longest in the history of the women's game, stretching over 35 days.
With more time away from loved ones back home than ever, experienced heads are invaluable and Alphonsi believes Hunter and vice-captain Emily Scarratt will play a crucial role in keeping morale high during the squad's time away.
"It’s a strong captain and vice-captain partnership and as a result I feel like the team is unflappable because they’ve got these two strong leaders," said Alphonsi.
"Sarah is another player like Scarratt, who on the pitch does good stuff.
"What she does off the pitch is probably what makes her a special player, because she can bring teams together and Simon Middleton sees her as a significant port of call.
"He leans on her as well which is important for any coach and player relationship."
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