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Women's Six Nations: England's Marlie Packer discusses her softer side

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Published in Rugby
Wednesday, 27 April 2022 08:53

Watching Marlie Packer on a rugby pitch, it is easy to make a quick character assessment: confrontational, aggressive and all too happy to rile up her opposition.

Jumping to such speedy conclusions means missing out on the many nuances that form the true picture.

The 32-year-old flanker is a vocal and energetic presence in England's forwards, racking up statistics that have helped her take player of the match in two of the Red Roses' four Women's Six Nations wins so far.

But away from the pitch, she says there is a more gentle side that people do not see.

Packer talks with pride about her role in the growth of English women's rugby, which has welcomed record crowds in recent weeks.

She also supports younger players like 20-year-old flanker Sadia Kabeya to ensure that development continues.

Away from rugby, the back row also only needs the slightest prompt to happily discuss her 19-month-old son Oliver.

"Not many people do really know me," she tells BBC Sport.

"My switch between rugby and Marlie off the pitch is very different. I am probably a lot softer than what a lot of people would say I am and I've got a very caring nature.

"Marlie on the pitch - the switch gets switched and I can turn that on and off very easily."

Incredible stats 'don't matter'

Fans can be forgiven for overlooking Packer's "caring nature" after watching her tear through opposition this year.

She has been central in three of England's four dominant Women's Six Nations wins and is likely to be again as they look to claim a Grand Slam against an impressive France side on Saturday.

Success would bring England's 23rd win in a row - equalling the side's best ever run from 1992-97- and a fourth successive Six Nations title.

Packer has won nine turnovers in the tournament so far - more than any other player, with France's Gaelle Hermet the next best on five.

Along with Scotland's Jade Konkel, Packer has made the most carries with 48. She is third in the tries chart with four and the metres made standings with 314.

All this is even more impressive when you consider she was left out of the England squad altogether for their game against Italy.

Packer jokes that those statistics will boost her price in the Women's Six Nations fantasy league after she started out as a "mid-range" player, but her true focus is of course on taking the title.

"I could have the best stats in the world but that won't mean we win - it doesn't matter," she continues.

"I just want to make sure I go out there and be the best version of myself on the pitch that gets England that win."

'Work smart instead of hard'

It seems that Packer is the best version of herself off the pitch now too.

Back in 2018, she feared for her place in the England squad after being found guilty of drink-driving.

Since then, she has become one of the side's most vocal leaders and says she has banished a lot of "self-doubt" she previously had on the rugby pitch.

Two people arrived in her life in the autumn of 2020 that she credits for the change.

The first is her son Oliver and the second is England's strength and conditioning coach Alex Martin.

Packer says Martin "made me believe in my rugby ability again", helping her to acknowledge "I am a really good rugby player".

Of Oliver, she says: "When I used to finish the day's work of being a professional rugby player I'd go home and still think about it.

"When I go home now it's Marlie the mum. I work smart instead of working hard."

Packer excited for 'physical battle'

While Packer is happy to reveal her softer side, the World Cup winner does not shy away from certain hard truths.

She points out that Oliver and her partner Tash will be unlikely to travel to New Zealand for England's World Cup campaign this October for financial reasons.

"We are professional rugby players but we don't get paid that much money - I'm not afraid to say that," she explains.

Packer is equally fearless when talking about the Women's Six Nations' new title partner, saying: "I'm never going to get TikTok and I haven't got time for it either."

Although she is a complex character, most people's initial impression of Packer is correct.

Saturday's Grand Slam decider against France will be brutal - and she cannot wait.

"As a back row, you always look forward to that physical battle," she says.

"Both teams are going to have a point to prove. We just need to make sure we do what we do best and let the score look after itself."

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