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Before Marlie Packer starts any rugby game, her phone lights up with a text ending with the hashtag: ‘#onlyagirl.’ Courtesy of a family friend, the mantra has become immortalized into a pre-match reading ritual for the England back-rower, who started out as a five-year-old at Ivel Barbarians, now known as Yeovil Rugby Club.
“At secondary school, they let me play in the year seven’s boys team,” said Packer. “I wasn’t fazed by it – the boys weren’t either – because they’d always known I’d played rugby. But when we went to play our local schools, dads would shout, ‘She’s only a girl, tackle her!’”
Like many of her Red Rose peers, the Saracens player hails from a generation where mixed junior-grade rugby was the norm for women and girls wanting to give the oval-shaped game a try. It is a far cry from the 37,000 who are registered at clubs across England today, more than double the number five years ago.
Despite enjoying a prolific career for England’s under-20s – where Packer captained the side – her crossover to senior level required greater patience. More than three years separated her first and second international cap, starting in place of England legend Maggie Alphonsi during a 2010 tour to Canada for the latter.
“I think they must have seen something in me ear
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