Whenever Yeovil rugby ace Marlie Packer proudly pulls on England’s red rose she believes there is more at stake than impressing over 80 minutes for her country.
The 23-year-old Bristol captain and former Ivel Barbarians player aims to start her first international at Twickenham on Saturday as a three-Test series against World Champions New Zealand comes to a climax.
Flanker Packer played 52 minutes of last Friday’s dramatic 16-13 victory at Esher as England got off to the best possible start. However, she missed Tuesday’s clash in Aldershot as head coach Gary Street made nine changes to the starting XV.
With only cramp ending her contribution in Surrey, Packer – who now has 17 caps to her name – said she not only wants to do well for England when she crosses the white line, but also her family.
Mother Julie is more often than not in the stands cheering on daughter, even gifting Marlie a pair of initialled boots ahead of the series to cap a year where the ex-Buckler’s Mead Academy and Yeovil College student stamped her mark on the world game.
Marlie Packer said: “Pride and motivating others is a massive part and it is the same when I play for Bristol.
“Whatever shirt I put on I do so with pride and passion and everything comes through. When I put the rose on I don’t just wear it for me, I wear it for my family and there is a great deal of pride involved.
“I have played rugby for so many years now and have had ups and downs with my life but this path always follows through and comes right for me.
“I spoke to my old under-20s coach after Friday’s game and she couldn’t believe the progress I’ve made, it’s amazing how far I’ve come. Pride and desire always shine through when I’m wearing the England shirt.”
England trailed 8-3 at half time at Esher before a Black Ferns try almost immediately after the restart extended the gap to ten points. However, the hosts, watched by men’s legend Bill Beaumont, battled back, refusing to be deterred by missed penalty chances.
Replacements on 52 minutes made an immediate impact as Alex Matthews and Heather Fisher both went close before number eight Sarah Hunter eventually made the pressure tell, burrowing over to score.
New Zealand were then reduced to 14 women after 60 minutes as Lydia Crossman was sent to the sin bin for an infringement. Emily Scarratt converted the resulting penalty to make it 13-11.
Smart back line play then eventually freed up Katherine Merchant to dive over and give the home side a 16-13 lead.
Packer, who had a weekend trip to the dentist after suffering a blow to the mouth, paid tribute to strength and condition coach Andy Roda but added she would never take a starting place for granted.
“To start at seven for the first test against New Zealand meant so much to me because of all the training and work I put in at Yeovil College with Andy,” she said.
“It feels amazing but at the same time I always know there is someone chasing my feet. Alex Matthews came on and did really well, as did Heather Fisher and Hannah Gallagher will also do well. I have got to do all the right things by going for ice baths and that sort of thing so hopefully I have done enough to keep my place.
“It was an awesome game. We knew that it was going to be our toughest battle as they are world champions at the end of the day.
“They scored a try straight after half time and came of fighting, but we stayed composed and connected with each other, which is a massive factor for us as a squad.
“It came through within the 80 minutes and it showed the depth we had in the squad. Coming off the bench we had Alex come on for me and then when we had problems on the wing we had a flanker play there. It just shows that we all know how to play together. Tuesday will be another massive test for us.
“It was awesome that we won the first test and it shows that we are continuing from where we left off last year when we beat them here. We have to take to this forward now.
“We will obviously be able to look at the video and see where we made the mistakes and where we didn’t stay connected, but we can work on that over the coming days.”
Despite her second half withdrawal, Packer said there was no reason for lasting concern. She said: “It was just a bit of cramp. It was a long day and we had been up since 9am working on the game. I think I maybe might have drunk a little bit too much water and washed a little bit too many of the salts out of me.
“The adrenalin takes over sometimes. In the second half I was down because of the cramp in my calf and when I stretch my calf the quad goes as well. In the first half I also split my lip.”
On the opening win, Street said: “It was great to get the win to start the series off but we certainly made it hard work for ourselves. We didn’t execute at time which meant that we missed a lot of chances – we certainly should have had more points on the board in the first half.
“Throughout the match we showed a lot of diversity with several players having to play out of position but their knowledge and skill base, as well as character, shone through.”
The coach added that changes made for Tuesday’s clash were intended to keep his squad fit and fresh ahead of Saturday’s potential crunch finale at the home of rugby.
“With three games in eight days the key is to keep our players fresh as these matches are going to take their toll both physically and mentally,” said Street.
“This is still a strong England squad with over 380 caps in the starting line-up and one that I believe can build on our opening win of the series.”