Rugby

Marlie Packer set for landmark England appearance against Italy

The Saracens back-row made her senior international debut in 2008.

Marlie Packer will become the seventh woman to reach the milestone for England
Marlie Packer Marlie Packer will become the seventh woman to reach the milestone for England (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Marlie Packer will make her 100th England appearance on Sunday when she captains the side in their Six Nations opener against Italy in Parma.

Red Roses head coach John Mitchell announced his squad on Thursday and Packer will become the seventh woman to reach the milestone for England.

Mitchell said the 34-year-old Saracens back-row, who made her senior international debut in 2008, “epitomises what it is to be a Red Rose”.

He added: “Reaching 100 caps for your country is an awesome achievement. Talking to Marlie about her journey, she has had to overcome adversity since her Test debut.

“What has been evident since I first met her is that her determination to succeed has been ingrained in her over the past 16 years, helping her achieve what she has in the game.”

Packer is one of only five players who have retained their starting places following England’s 33-12 win against New Zealand when sealing the inaugural WXV1 title in November last year.

The others are Harlequins full-back Ellie Kildunne, Trailfinders wing Abby Dow, Loughborough centre Helena Rowland and Bristol hooker Lark Atkin-Davies.

John Mitchell’s side face Italy on Sunday
John Mitchell John Mitchell’s side face Italy on Sunday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Saracens fly-half Zoe Harrison, Loughborough centre Emily Scarratt and Bristol second-row Abbie Ward all return to the starting line-up for the first time since England’s 34-31 defeat to New Zealand in the 2022 World Cup final.

Saracens prop Kelsey Clifford is poised for her maiden Test start and Exeter flanker Maddie Feaunati could make her England debut off the bench.

Loughborough flanker Sadia Kabeya and Harlequins scrum-half Lucy Packer will both start against Italy after missing WXV through injury.

England have lost only three of their last 60 Test matches and after completing the Six Nations Grand Slam last year, they finished the 2023 season unbeaten.

England completed Six Nations grand slam last season and went on to end 2023 undefeated
England completed Six Nations grand slam last season and went on to end 2023 undefeated England completed Six Nations grand slam last season and went on to end 2023 undefeated (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mitchell said: “We are excited to get going in what is an awesome tournament. We are focused on improving our performance.

“We want to get quicker at our game, we want to create more pressure on the opposition and we want to present attacking opportunities. Italy is our first opportunity to put into practice what we are aiming to achieve.”

England team to face Italy: Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins), Abby Dow (Trailfinders), Helena Rowland (Loughborough), Emily Scarratt (Loughborough), Jess Breach (Saracens), Zoe Harrison (Saracens), Lucy Packer (Harlequins), Hannah Botterman (Bristol), Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol), Kelsey Clifford (Saracens), Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), Abbie Ward (Bristol), Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough), Marlie Packer (Saracens), Sarah Beckett (Gloucester-Hartpury).

Replacements: Connie Powell (Harlequins), Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester-Hartpury), Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), Maddie Feaunati (Exeter), Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury), Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury), Holly Aitchison (Bristol), Megan Jones (Leicester).