Sarah Hunter

Captain of England Rugby Women

Sarah Hunter was awarded an Honorary Degree in Winter 2022. Here you can read her degree oration.


It is always a huge honour to welcome alumni back to Loughborough for awards such as this. To recognise their success and influence on the world, and the role Loughborough played in their journey to this point.

Today, we welcome back an individual who has achieved incredible success in her own career, whilst also contributing hugely to the University’s reputation in her field.

Sarah Hunter MBE ranks amongst Loughborough’s most successful alumni. The rugby union player’s sporting career thus far has seen her become one of Great Britain’s most decorated athletes. As a record-breaking captain and Rugby World Cup winner, Sarah has undeniably advanced Loughborough University’s status as a world leader in the sport. Her impeccable work on and off the pitch has contributed significantly to the growth of her sport – a hugely impressive embodiment of Loughborough’s commitment to sport, health and wellbeing.

Sarah’s journey with Loughborough began as a student when she graduated with a BSc in Sport Science and Mathematics in 2007. During this time, in addition to her studies, Sarah was also hugely influential in developing women’s rugby pathways at the University.

From advertising the sport to new students and increasing participation levels to coordinating funding appeals, Sarah’s commitment to the sport and its growing gender balance has always been clear.

Following a period of significant progression for women’s rugby at Loughborough, the Loughborough Lightning franchise extended into the sport in 2017. Sarah has played for the team since its inception, becoming a familiar fixture on campus. She currently holds a player‐coach role, imparting her expertise to the next generation of Loughborough’s elite athletes, all whilst remaining a critical member of an England squad that operates at the highest echelons of the sport.

In terms of her own personal career achievements, Sarah has few sporting equals. She is a prime example of the female sporting excellence the Loughborough Lightning franchise prides itself on. Sarah captains the England women’s team who are currently the number-one ranked team in the world on a record‐extending winning streak.

Sarah has represented her country since 2007 and is the most‐capped England player of all time. She captained the side to World Cup glory in 2014.

The duration of her career has also been remarkable, particularly in a sport famed for its physical intensity and attrition.

During 2020, Sarah suffered what was considered a career-threatening nerve injury in her neck, but her resilience across an intensive rehabilitation period enabled Sarah to return to the international fold and resume her immense success as England’s captain after just a year.

Beyond Sarah’s athletic accomplishments, she has also made several significant contributions to the growth of women’s rugby and gender equality within the sport more broadly. As a University Rugby Development Officer for the Rugby Football Union, Sarah has fed her expertise back into shaping the performance pathways available to promising female rugby players. She is a candid speaker about the growth of women’s sport within the media, and her own success and status within women’s rugby, have ensured her voice is a weighty one in such crucial debates. For example, under Sarah’s captaincy, England were the first women’s team to receive professional player contracts – a model which has since been replicated by aspiring rugby nations across the world.

As a hugely successful Loughborough alumna, Sarah’s continued contribution to Loughborough University’s sporting status and legacy deserves to be celebrated.

Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you and the whole University, Sarah Hunter, for the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.