FEATURE INTERVIEW | Packer eyeing hat-trick of silverware in 2022
Marlie Packer has always been driven when it comes to rugby. The Saracens back row dynamo simply never knows when to stop.
Already a World Cup winner and runner-up, triple Grand Slammer and two-time Premier15s winner, she isn’t willing to settle for that. She just wants more and more and has her sights set on her own version of a ‘Triple Crown’ this year.
“The dream would be to win the Six Nations again with England, help Saracens regain the Premier15s title and then go to New Zealand and bring the World Cup home again,” said Packer.
Not a bad wish list, although she is the first to recognise that it is only that. Every week she has to battle for a starting spot at her club and then play well every weekend in order to stay in the eye of the Red Roses selectors.
She has made a pretty good job of doing just that over the years and there are no signs of her slipping down the pecking order for either club or country. She took her international cap tally to 79 in the Autumn and helped the Roses to complete and amazing double over Black Ferns.
If that was revenge for England’s defeat by the New Zealand side in the 2017 World Cup final, it was tempered by the fact on her return to Saracens after the international break she suffered another defeat at the hands of Premier15s champions Harlequins.
“What happened in November and December just proved that you have to stay in the moment, meet the next challenge and never get too far ahead of yourself,” she added.
“My mother and brother booked to go to the Rio Olympics in 2016 when I was in the Team GB Sevens programme and I got cut at the last minute. What I don’t want anyone to do is book too early to go to New Zealand later this year.
“I’d love to have my family there, my partner, Tash, and our young son Oliver, but there is a lot of rugby to be played before then.”
The former plumber turned full-time, professional rugby player also knows that injuries can play their part. This time two years ago she smashed her ankle on the eve of the Six Nations playing for Saracens at Worcester Warriors and was forced to miss the tournament . . . and another Grand Slam.
Ironically, it will be Worcester who will have to front up to a now fully fit Packer next weekend at the StoneX Stadium. If that clash two years ago remains a painful memory, the indefatigable and indomitable 32-year-old from Yeovil also has a happier recollection from an earlier clash with the Warriors.
Having learned her rugby from the age of five to 18 at Yeovil RFC, formerly Ivel Barbarians, she moved on to Bath, Bristol and Wasps before signing for Sarries in 2017. She arrived as a World Cup winner, having played in the back row with the great Maggie Alphonsi in 2014, and a runner-up three years later.
She was also given the Freedom of Yeovil for being a part of England’s success in 2014 and went on to make what you might describe as a bit of an impact on her debut for the women in black.
“I think I scored six tries that day. It was a bit of a dream debut,” she recalled.
Having made such an amazing impact in her first game for the club she maintained those high standards throughout the season. She was the top try scorer with 20 in the inaugural Premier15s season, helped Saracens to beat Harlequins in the final and was named as the player of the match.
“It was great to win the final, but so disappointing not to be able to make it three in a row last year when we met Quins again at Kingsholm. We learned a lot about ourselves as a team and individually on that day,” she added.
“We were forced to take a long, hard look at ourselves and we’ve taken things from that defeat that have been driving us on this season. If we end up reclaiming the title then maybe last season’s defeat won’t have been such a bad thing.”
Life has changed a bit – well, a lot really – since the birth of her son, Oliver. He provides the perfect escape from rugby and was there to watch his mum help England trounce the All Blacks earlier in the season.
When he finally gets to an age to appreciate his mother’s skills on the field, her tenacity, ferocity and courage, then maybe he’ll realise that arguing back in his teenage years might not be such a good idea! Packer has to be at the heart of what’s going on in a game and always wears her heart on her sleeve.
“I just want to be in the thick of things. I want the ball in my hands when I’m on the pitch – any 50-50 Is going to be mine, that’s my mentality,” she said.
“I love making line breaks, big carries and defence. Sometimes, though, the best form of defence is to attack.”
Worcester Warriors, Harlequins and New Zealand, you have all been warned. Don’t get between this woman and her dreams!