Marlie Packer’s return to the England women’s rugby squad to face New Zealand is the “icing on the cake” for the Yeovil-based flanker who now feels an established international.
The current Bristol ace and former Ivel Barbarians player missed her country’s 23-13 defeat of France earlier this month as head coach Gary Street and his team cast their eyes over potential future stars.
However, Packer is back in the 27-strong fold to take on reigning world champions New Zealand in three games starting a week tomorrow. The 23-year-old said her inclusion capped a memorable 12 months that started with a call-up to face the Black Ferns this time last year.
“I went and watched the France game and it was really hard to just be on the sidelines,” she said. “Once I had got over the fact I wasn’t playing it was just nice to relax and watch the girls, knowing that I am part of that.
“The call-up puts the icing on the cake of my year. Last season I was called up for the New Zealand tests and to achieve that again is something special.
“I feel fully-established and know where I figure in the squad. I talk quite a bit with the coaches and I know what is going on with the team. Even when I wasn’t selected for the France game we spoke openly about why I wasn’t included, which was good.”
Packer added that New Zealand tackle England at their strongest ever, even if flanker rival and close friend Margaret Alphonsi misses out through injury.
“The standard is at an all-time high but in my position Maggie Alphonsi is still out at the moment and I see her as the world’s number one rugby player,” she said.
“She brings everything to the table with regards to playing the game and her experience but when she is out of the team the opportunities for myself are massive.
“Amongst the backs, people came back from injury to play really well in the France game and a few of them have kept their place for the New Zealand squad.
“There is so much depth within the squad. The Sevens go to Dubai a few days after the last test and they will have people like Jo Whatmore, who played her first 15-a-side international against France and scored within 30 seconds of the pitch.
“She is in the New Zealand squad now as well so the strength in depth is excellent.”
England start the series at Esher RFC in Surrey on Friday, November 23 before moving to Aldershot Army Rugby Stadium the following Tuesday, both games kicking off at 7.30pm.
The series ends at Twickenham on Saturday, December 1, kick off 5pm, with all three games broadcast live at www.rfu.com/englandwomenlive.
Head coach Street said: “Excluding a handful of injuries this is the strongest squad I could have selected for this series.
“It is an exciting mix of power and pace and we have got some real experience too.
“Our game against France was a vitally important match. It was a testing and physical battle and we showed character and resolve under some real pressure. The match was ideal preparation for this series.
“The Black Ferns will need little motivation after their series loss last year. We are under no illusions that they’ll be even more determined than ever to come back here and reverse that result.
“They have selected a talented squad with a lot of experience, including some real stars of the National Provincial Championship league.”