Rugby World Cup: England captain Marlie Packer thought she had been relegated

Marlie Packer, pictured here with son Oliver, has 85 England caps
Place: Waitakere Stadium, Auckland Date: October 23 Sunday Start: 05:45 BST
Coverage: Live commentary with live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and online

Marlie Packer says it’s a “huge honour” to captain England for the first time, but initially thought she was being dropped when coach Simon Middleton told her.

Packer leads a much changed side England’s final Rugby World Cup match against South Africa on Sunday.

“I thought he was going to come and say, ‘We’re not going to play you this weekend,'” Packer said.

“It was a completely different conversation.”

The 33-year-old added: “He said: ‘We’re going to make you captain, are you OK?’ Of course, it’s a great honor.”

Title favorites England face South Africa, who have already booked a place in the quarter-finals after their win over France.

A win would improve the Red Roses’ place in the last 16 and, given the difference between the two sides, Middleton has used it as an opportunity to rotate his squad.

Along with fly-half Zoe Harrison, Packer is one of two players in the starting XV to keep his place for France.

She was thrilled with the captain’s news, but her two-year-old son Oliver’s reaction was less enthusiastic.

“Obviously he was very happy, but you don’t get too much of a reaction at the moment – he’s only got two,” Packer said.

Packer told BBC Radio 5 Live that being away from Oliver for almost eight weeks while he is at the tournament in New Zealand is “very tough at times”.

“It’s a sacrifice I knew I would have to make,” he said.

“Some days are harder than others, I had a bit of a tear yesterday. I’m there to do a job and even though I miss it, I want to do my job here and look back and tell him about it.

“Every day I email him and send him some pictures. He’s always in my thoughts. I have a pillowcase. [England team-mate] Poppy Cleall took me out of him. It’s nice to cuddle.”