Verge was able to speak with Marlie Packer, a member of England Rugby and World Cup Winner in 2014, and learn more about her journey as a rugby player.
Verge: Tell me about how you got into playing rugby. Was it something you were passionate about from a young age?
MP: I got into it when I was six. One of my friends from school, his mom took us. My mom thought we were going to watch and dressed me in a pair of jeans and this red top which had frills around the arms and the bottom and around the neck, which I used to hate. I came back from the train covered in mud, and I’ve never looked back since. I’ve been playing ever since and I love it.
Verge: Who was your first team?
MP: I played for the Ivel Barbarians near Somerset. The team has now changed its name to Yeovil Rugby Club, so I was an Ivel girl back in the day.
Verge: Could you explain your position, and how it contributes to the team?
MP: I’m an openside flanker, which is 7. I think it’s the best position on the field. You kind of get to get away with a lot, so when you’ve got structured team play the 7 actually gets to roam and go for that jackal opportunity to get the ball. The 7 also does a lot of hard work like tackling, and big ball carry situations.
Verge: Did you start as an open side flanker?
MP: Moving up through minis and juniors, I moved all over the parts, and nothing was ever set. I think because we were all at such a young age, you just played anywhere and it was about finding your feet and enjoying the game. It wasn’t until I got to more under-16s levels that I first started the hooker, and that’s where I got picked up from England. The next year, I got moved to flanker, and I’ve been a flanker ever since.
Verge: What’s it like being a female rugby player? Have you faced any difficulties getting into the sport, being in the sport, like perceptions from the outside?
MP: There are always difficulties, not just because I’m a female rugby player, but the fact that back when I was playing junior rugby there wasn’t so much publicity and people into the game. To go play a Sunday game, you’d have to travel an hour and a half, and then you might not have enough players for a team, but you’d still travel because you’d want to play some kind of rugby. I think with things like that, all I can do is take my hat off to my mom, because she drove all those miles and gave up her time for me to be able to play and do what I love. She gave all that up, so it’s an absolute honor to make her proud and play for England and be at the top of the game.
Verge: Does your mom attend all of your games?
MP: She tries to, obviously my journey has changed quite a bit over the last few years, I’ve picked up Sevens contracts, and when I’m playing Seven’s we’re traveling all over the world to play, and she can’t just drop her job and fly over to watch me play in different countries. My first ever big tour was with under-19s, the second year I was in under-19s program, and it was in Toronto, Canada, and she came over to watch that which was amazing. Both World Cups I’ve been in she’s been there every step of the way. She’s definitely a true supporter, and it’s amazing.
Verge: You’ve played for a variety of teams across the country. Have you found any key differences in how each team functions?
MP: Every team is different, but it’s the same as any sport, it’s the coach and the players you’ve got around you and how the coach wants you to play rugby, or the age group of what the team is, that will be different. For me, I was a Bristol player, I live in Bristol, but the reason I chose to go back up to London and go to Saracens was that actually Bristol had a lot of back row players and I wasn’t playing 80-minute games. I needed a change to make me still have the drive, the desire, the want, the winning mentality, and at Saracens we’ve got a very young back line, and there are some great club players there, and the coach wanted me to go there for a couple of years. The structure is different than playing for England, it was to play what you feel a little bit. If you try to pull something off and it goes wrong, that’s OK, and sometimes it’s nice to play rugby when it’s OK to not do things quite right. I think that’s a big part of how we won the Premiership this season.
Verge: You’ve been part of the national team for awhile. What’s it like playing for England?
MP: It’s very special. You’re part of a very special family. You’ve got a Red Rose number, my Red Rose number is 150, and I know that there’s 150 people before me who have played for England, and I think there’s around 200 or 205 now. It’s a very small amount of people that have ever done that, and you’re a very special group. I know there’s not one of the girls that I couldn’t call up if I needed something, or someone to talk to, and I’ve gotten some of my best friends from the group. You have your ups and downs, you get mad and frustrated with each other, but you make great memories with each other. The World Cup year, we went out to New Zealand, beat New Zealand, beat Canada, beat Australia, went to the World Cup and won every game apart from the World Cup final. That one game doesn’t define us as a team or as players. At the end of the day, in a rugby game, you get a winner and a loser, and unfortunately on that day lot wasn’t with us and New Zealand performed really well. It’s really special that you go through all of those motions and you do it together.
Verge: What do you think is the role of touch rugby in the structure of rugby? Do you see it as a way of encouraging more girls to play rugby?
MP: It’s a great way to get everybody involved, and especially for women, it’s not like you’re going to go down to your local touch team and feel like you’re going to get tackled. It’s more like come down, people make you feel really welcome, there’s music playing, and it’s a really good environment. The teams can make it as competitive as they want. You can get as involved as you want. It’s a really good fitness and a really good way of making friends, and I think it’s a really good release for people to be able to go out there and do that.
Follow Marlie on Instagram @marlie_packer and Twitter @MarliePacker.
Marlie spoke to Verge at England Rugby’s O2 Touch Inspiration Day at Pennyhill Park on 24 May 2018. The event was a celebration of O2 Touch, an initiative which has given 5,125 women the opportunity to play rugby regularly. Find your local O2 Touch rugby session here: www.O2Touch.co.uk.
If you are interested in giving women’s contact rugby a try then why not check out one of England Rugby’s ‘Warrior Camps’, aimed at introducing women to the basics of rugby in a fun and commitment-free environment. To register your interest, visit: www.englandrugby.com/innerwarrior.