"Everest Climbers & Samoan Tattoos" - 5 Talking Points: Red Roses Squad Annoucement vs Italy Women's Six Nations - Ruck

“Everest Climbers & Samoan Tattoos” – 5 Talking Points: Red Roses Squad Annoucement vs Italy Women’s Six Nations

England begin their mission of retaining the Women’s Six Nations crown this Sunday, as they travel out to Parma for an opening round battle against Italy. England have won the competition for the past five consecutive years, but will face an improved Italian side following recent milestones for the Azzurri.

Last year, England handed Italy an emphatic 68-5 defeat, and run in 12 tries in the process. The Red Roses have since entered a new era, with head coach John Mitchell now firmly at the helm following his overseeing role he took on during the 2023 WXV.

‘Mitch’ and his selected captain Marlie Packer spoke to the reporting media today, after naming his match day squad, for the upcoming 2024 Women’s Six Nations opener against Italy. Here are the biggest takeaways from what was discussed in the press conference.



The main story heading into this Sunday, is that Marlie Packer will make her 100th test cap for the Red Roses. Packer will become only the seventh woman in history to achieve the accolade for England, and joins the exclusive company of Amy Garnett, Rocky Clark, Tamara Taylor, Sarah Hunter, Katy Daley-Mclean and Emily Scarratt. Packer spoke about the accomplishment and looked back on her humble beginnings when she debuted for England back in 2008.

MARLIE PACKER: “I just feel extremely honored. It’s always a privilege to wear the shirt and to lead out the Red Roses is something very special. But to do it on my 100th cap and also be captain is just the icing on the cake. It’s something I love, I love leading the girls, I just love to put on the shirt. So yeah, just happy.”

“My memories of 2008 (first cap), that’s a long time ago. We played Sweden in Amsterdam, and we had Amsterdam Sevens that was going on alongside. You’ve got the main pitch and then we’re on like the side edge pitch with I’d say probably about 100 people watching not even that, and some portaloos to the left.

“So that was my first cap, I played the first 40 minutes got taken off. And yeah, that’s the last time I played that tournament. So that’s about as quick as what I can remember from that cap. But I think for me, it was then that 2011/12 year where I really got back into the senior England squad and made a bit of a name for myself, I guess.

“I played in every game that that season, we won my first ever Grand Slam at Esher Rugby Club, which was pretty special back then. And then also winning player’s player, which was a much more low key thing back then. It was just said in the hall after the game with just the players, which to me was still very special because your peers picked it.

“But I think from that moment you feel a belonging. And that was very much what I felt. Fast forward to now I still feel that belonging and that drive to want to give the best performance to this team and, you know, do what I can for it.”

JOHN MITCHELL: “Yeah, pretty easy (to select Marlie). I mean, she’s demonstrated excellence as a player and obviously very successful as a captain last year. So it’s important to continue that. As I’ve always said, I’ve talked enough about her personality being a really good person that we need, somebody to go forward in your rugby team. This lady here certainly leads by example. You probably don’t mind me saying, she she’ll put her head on the spikes when she needs to. And she lives by her actions, you know, and it’s important to.”


Exeter Chiefs back-row Maddie Feaunati is set to make her Red Roses debut in Parma, after being named amongst the replacements for the 23 player squad. Feaunati is one of three uncapped players that were called into the wider training squad, yet will be the sole debutant as she is expected to come off the bench for Packer in the matches latter stages.

The England captain has been thoroughly impressed by Feaunati’s fast-tracked ride to the match day squad, having only recently left the Hurricanes in New Zealand for a spot at Sandy Park. Born in Leeds to former Samoan international Zak Feaunati, whom interestingly portrayed Jonah Lomu in the 2009 film ‘Invictus’, The 22-year-old was also eligible to play for New Zealand and Samoa, yet opted to pursue a career with the Red Roses.

The England captain and head coach spoke about how Feaunati recently shared her heritage with the players, in talking them through her Samoan leg tattoo.

MARLIE PACKER: “The way she goes about her business in training, she’s always ready to get stuck in, but then also off field, she’s integrated with the team really well. We’ve had a couple of evenings, where we do a bit of learning about each other and as players and she got up and talked about her tattoo and where it come from and the meaning behind it.

“I think you know, that’s the difference. Now, we’re finding out about not just the rugby player, but also about the person. She has come into the squad and it’s been seamless.”

“Don’t hold me to this. There’s a bit of pressure now, because I don’t want to get this wrong! So, the front was about her family. So her grandmother, and then also like around the edges about whereabouts her family have come from. And then she’s got a bit on the side to the back is about her uncle and them.”

JOHN MITCHELL: “To add to that, I heard her saying to one of the staff yesterday in between transitions, and ‘wherever she walks, the other people are safe’. As a result of that (tattoo). That’s the way I see it.”

“There’s a strong commitment to play for England. It’s been there for a long time. She recognises her childhood here, like the way she’s brought up. Actually it was really quite beautiful the other day, we were training at Hazelwood, London Irish’s old ground, and her father was up on the honours board.

“So a couple of people brought it to her attention. And then actually, when I spoke to her, I said ‘can you remember these facilities?’ But she reckons she wasn’t around at that point, but it was quite special for her to see her dad on the honours board.”