Marlie Packer urges Red Roses to embrace the occasion on Twickenham return

Almost 50,000 people are expected at the home of English rugby for the Women’s Six Nations clash against Ireland, with coach John Mitchell making minimal changes to his starting side

Harry Latham-Coyle
Thursday 18 April 2024 16:00 BST
Marlie Packer captained England to Women’s Six Nations victory at Twickenham last year
Marlie Packer captained England to Women’s Six Nations victory at Twickenham last year (PA Archive)

Captain Marlie Packer has urged the Red Roses to embrace the big occasion as England prepare to take on Ireland at Twickenham.

The Red Roses return to the home of English rugby in round four of the Women’s Six Nations, with another bumper crowd anticipated.

While the final figure will fall short of the world record for a women’s game set at last year’s grand slam decider against France, there will be close to 50,000 people in attendance on Saturday afternoon.

And skipper Packer, who returns to the starting side after beginning on the bench against Scotland, has encouraged her side to “enjoy the occasion” as they seek a sixth successive Women’s Six Nations crown.

“From last year to this year, we’ve got a very different outlook as a squad,” Packer explained. “We’ve still got that winning mentality, but the way we play is different.

England have embraced a more expansive style of play (Steve Welsh/PA Wire)

“We are not thinking about the occasion of a year ago, we are thinking about the occasion on Saturday. We want to make sure we enjoy the occasion. There are a lot of things that can take us away from the occasion, but we want to make sure that we hone in on what we want to do and put our gameplan out on that pitch.”

Packer’s return is one of two changes to John Mitchell’s starting side, with Lark Atkin-Davies back from a concussion to replace the suspended Amy Cokayne at hooker.

The backline is unchanged, though centurion Emily Scarratt is back amongst things on the bench with Meg Jones offering fly half cover from the centres in Zoe Harrison’s absence.

Cokayne’s sending off against Scotland was England’s second red card of the campaign, with Sarah Beckett still serving her three-match ban after the number eight’s dismissal against Italy.

Mitchell insists, though, that discipline is not a major issue, with the Red Roses pushed to continue playing “on the edge”.

“There’s bigger rocks to deal with than discipline,” the head coach said, insisting that there had not been a big focus on the matter in training this week. “I want us to continue to play on the edge, but I also want us to be aware around how we need to change our behaviour.

John Mitchell does not believe that discipline is a major issue for his side (Getty Images)

“In Amy’s incident, she needs to get her head under the ball. Obviously that’s something you put the ownership on the individual to change. We probably let the pressure off on Scotland. [There were] a number of times - I think on six occasions - when we had the foot on the throat.

“We’d rather that turn into attack for us. There’s some good things we’ve learned from it but we’re certainly not going to go away from being on the edge. It’s what drives us. It’s what the game’s all about and we want to defence into points.”

England continue to work on a number of scenarios in training where they are operating with a player disadvantage, and have so far not conceded a point while down to 14.

They have also practiced for the extra noise that a significantly larger crowd will provide this week, with speakers blaring at Pennyhill Park to challenge England’s communication.

“I personally loved it,” Packer said. “It just raised it. You just to be really clear and concise in your calls. It paints a different picture for us. It’s been a new thing that we’ve brought in this week which has raised our game. Hopefully we can put it out on the pitch on Saturday.”

England team to face Ireland at Twickenham (2.15pm BST, Saturday 20 April)

15 Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins, 41 caps)

14 Abby Dow (Trailfinders Women, 43 caps)

13 Megan Jones (Leicester Tigers, 19 caps)

12 Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury, 20 caps)

11 Jess Breach (Saracens, 36 caps)

10 Holly Aitchison (Bristol Bears, 28 caps)

9 Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 70 caps)

1 Hannah Botterman (Bristol Bears, 45 caps)

2 Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol Bears, 56 caps)

3 Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury, 28 caps)

4 Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 51 caps)

5 Rosie Galligan (Saracens, 16 caps)

6 Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning, 16 caps)

7 Marlie Packer (Saracens, 102 caps) - captain

8 Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury, 65 caps)


16 Connie Powell (Harlequins, 17 caps)

17 Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester-Hartpury, 13 caps)

18 Kelsey Clifford (Saracens, 6 caps)

19 Morwenna Talling (Sale Sharks, 11 caps)

20 Maddie Feaunati (Exeter Chiefs, 3 caps)

21 Lucy Packer (Harlequins, 19 caps)

22 Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 109 caps)

23 Sydney Gregson (Saracens, 5 caps)

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