The plumber at the heart of England

Marlie Packer is playing a significant role for the Red Roses at the Rugby World Cup, just as she has done since they won the title in 2014. Ahead of England’s match against the United States this afternoon, Will Moulton hears about her pathway to success

England’s defence of their Rugby World Cup title has got off to the flying start with ten tries scored in each of the victories over Spain and Italy. In the process the Red Roses have won plaudits for their fluent, attractive, daredevil play. Leading the way, flanker Marlie Packer has been close to faultless.

She was named player of the match against the Italians for a performance in which she secured three turnovers and set up Amy Cokayne for one of the tries with a defence-splitting run. No one was surprised in the slightest. Packer has been a key figure in England’s glory years, finishing joint highest try-scorer on the way to World Cup success in 2014 before driving the team to the top of the world rankings for the first time in June by beating New Zealand.

This may not have happened if Packer’s mum had not agreed to let a friend take her to a training session more than 20 years ago.

“When my mum’s friend took me to play, I had a pair of jeans and a red frilly top because Mum thought I was going to watch not play,” the Bristol player recalled. “I came back caked in mud and I don’t think she made me wear those clothes again. They went in the bin – which was a result for me. I never really looked back, I played rugby from then on. I did other sports at school but rugby was always my thing.”

Before long Packer had joined Ivel Barbarians, playing in mixed teams up until the age of 13 and then moving to Bath Ladies and becoming part of the England set-up. At the tender age of 18, she was unexpectedly thrust into the international limelight, making her debut in an 80-3 demolition of Sweden in May 2008. A move to Bristol followed shortly after.

However, it would be more than three years before Packer pulled on the senior England jersey again, a moment that she holds as one of the most of treasured of her career because of the amount of work she had to put in to make it happen.

“My debut was incredible and a massive surprise at the time, although I was in the England Under-20 programme,” the 27-year-old said. “It was a call from nowhere – a load of people got their first caps in that game. I was one of the youngest. It is a time I’ll never forget. But it was another three years and three months until I played internationally again.

“That second cap was a lot more rewarding for me because I had worked hard for it, I wanted it. It was most definitely a frustrating wait. There were a lot of factors and reasons for it, but I was still in the England set-up – I stayed in the under-20s for another two years before I went across to the ‘A’ team.

“Then, in 2011, I was selected for a tour in Canada where I won that second cap and after that I started every game for England right up until to the end of 2012 when we beat France and New Zealand in the autumn internationals. That year was very significant and a memory I will always have because that second cap was very, very special to me.”

One reason Packer didn’t return to the international fold during that period was that she was training to become a qualified plumber, a job she will return to once the tournament ends later this month. She did the same after helping land the World Cup three years ago.

Despite the news that current full-time contracts for England’s XV-a-side players will not be renewed, Packer is looking forward to returning to her trade, though she won’t be thinking about ballcocks and U-bends until the competition is over.

“The company I work for – HomeServe – are very supportive,” she explained. “After the 2014 World Cup I went back to work straight away, and to be honest it’s going to be the same this time round. I won’t have very much time off before I go back and start again. I’m looking forward to it – it’s another challenge.

“But all my concentration is going towards this World Cup. We need to win; every one of us wants to bring home that trophy again.”


Will Moulton is a ‘Gold Standard’ NCTJ-qualified sports journalist and a First Class graduate from Durham University who aspires to one day commentate on international cricket and an Olympic Games. He is hugely passionate about a number of sports – including cricket, hockey, football and rugby – and also has two national cheerleading titles to his name. Will’s latest articles

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