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Marlie Packer to win 100th England cap in Women’s Six Nations opener against Italy

Marlie Packer is the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year  (Getty Images)


Marlie Packer is the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year  (Getty Images)

Marlie Packer is the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year (Getty Images)

Marlie Packer will win her 100th cap after being named as England captain for the Red Roses’ Women’s Six Nations opener against Italy.

Openside flanker Packer will become England’s seventh female centurion in Parma on Sunday after being named to start alongside Sadia Kabeya and Sarah Beckett in the back row.

Lock Abbie Ward, centre Emily Scarratt and fly half Zoe Harrison are set to start as they make their first appearances at international level since the World Cup final in November 2022, while back row Maddie Feaunati is primed for a debut from the bench.

Kelsey Clifford is handed a first start by coach John Mitchell at tighthead in the absence of the injured Sarah Bern, and hooker Amy Cokanye misses out with a hamstring issue though is making good progress towards a recovery.

“We are excited to get going in what is an awesome tournament,” Mitchell, who is taking charge of his first full campaign as Red Roses coach, said.

“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.

Mitchell added of Packer’s milestone: “Reaching 100 caps for your country is an awesome achievement. What has been evident since I first met her is her determination to succeed has been ingrained in her over the past 16 years, helping her achieve what she has in the game. She epitomises what it is to be a Red Rose.”

Marlie Packer led England to another Six Nations crown last year (PA)

Marlie Packer led England to another Six Nations crown last year (PA)

Packer follows Sarah Hunter, Rocky Clark, Katy Daley-Mclean, Tamara Taylor, Scarratt and Amy Garnett in bringing up a century of appearances for her country.

The Saracens back row made her senior England debut in 2008, with about 100 people watching a 15-a-side international against Sweden being played concurrently with a sevens tournament in Amsterdam.

After a period out of the side, Packer returned to the squad in 2011 and secured a first Six Nations grand slam in 2012, being voted Players’ Player of the Year by her teammates.

She was named Hunter’s successor at skipper after the No 8’s retirement during last year’s championship and has retained the role under new coach Mitchell.

Packer’s son, Oliver, will not be in Italy but will be in attendance at Ashton Gate next week when England face Wales, and has spent time in camp this week as his mother prepares to make a landmark appearance.

“I feel extremely honoured,” Packer said. “It is always a privilege to wear the shirt and lead out the Red Roses, but to do it on my 100th cap is the icing on the cake.

John Mitchell has named a strong England team to start the Six Nations (Getty Images)

John Mitchell has named a strong England team to start the Six Nations (Getty Images)

“I think I’ve grown a lot [since 2008] – I’m a bit smarter on and off the pitch. Back then, I used to chase every breakdown and go for every jackal. I’ve learned to pick my moments and timing.

“Timing is so key to everything you do. Away from rugby, having [my son] Oliver has given me a different outlook and purpose in life away from rugby.

“This week I’ve just been focussing on Parma and making sure the squad are in the best possible place to put a performance in. A lot of people are talking about my 100th cap but for me, it is just another game. I just want to play and then I’ll reflect after the Six Nations.”

While Scarratt, who takes on a new role at inside centre, and Harrison return from long neck and knee injury lay-offs respectively, Ward’s return comes after giving birth to daughter Hallie last July.

She is partnered in the second row by Zoe Aldcroft, who hailed the Bristol lock’s qualities.

Abbie Ward returns to the England side after giving birth last summer (Getty Images)

Abbie Ward returns to the England side after giving birth last summer (Getty Images)

“I think it shows her dedication,” Aldcroft said. “She is one of the most determined people I have ever met and it is credit to how hard she has worked to come back from having a baby and be a trailblazer.

“It is lovely to have her back. As second rows, it is important to have that connection and a lot of the time we are on the same wavelength. She’s an out-and-out leader and I’m very much looking forward to being back on the pitch with her.”

Mitchell is understood to have informed several members of his squad of his plans for selection for the first few weeks of the championship, with opportunities expected to be given to a number of those not included in his first matchday 23.

England have won the last five championship crowns and haven’t lost a Six Nations match since March 2018 when Jessy Tremouliere’s 79th-minute try gave France an 18-17 win in Grenoble.

Red Roses team to take on Italy in Parma (3pm GMT, Sunday 24 March)

15 Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins, 38 caps)

14 Abby Dow (Trailfinders Women, 40 caps)

13 Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 28 caps)

12 Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 108 caps)

11 Jess Breach (Saracens, 33 caps)

10 Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 46 caps)

9 Lucy Packer (Harlequins, 16 caps)

1 Hannah Botterman (Bristol Bears, 42 caps)

2 Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol Bears, 54 caps)

3 Kelsey Clifford (Saracens, 3 caps)

4 Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 48 caps)

5 Abbie Ward (Bristol Bears, 61 caps)

6 Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning, 13 caps)

7 Marlie Packer (Saracens, 99 caps)

8 Sarah Beckett (Gloucester-Hartpury, 34 caps)

Replacements:

16 Connie Powell (Harlequins, 14 caps)

17 Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester-Hartpury, 10 caps)

18 Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury, 25 caps)

19 Maddie Feaunati (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)

20 Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury, 62 caps)

21 Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 67 caps)

22 Holly Aitchison (Bristol Bears, 25 caps)

23 Megan Jones (Leicester Tigers, 16 caps)



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