On the field, Packer is often seen barking instructions to those around her when her teammates’ heads are lowered, energizing them in the process. His presence was invaluable as Saracens overtook Bristol last month in a top-flight clash. There is some similarity in how she was regularly sent on emergency calls during her working days for HomeServe, the home assistance provider.
She once visited former Gloucester and Lions hooker Richard Hibbard to fix his faulty boiler after winning the 2017 Six Nations with England.
Despite the obvious benefits of customer satisfaction, she doesn’t miss the grueling hours or occasional surprises when returning to daytime work after international duty.
“My second week back after the 2017 World Cup, I started this job and the front door was open and the ceiling was literally on the floor,” she said. “This house had all these beautiful ceramic tiles in the bathroom, and I had to get behind this bath panel. There was no leak that you could see, so I drilled a hole in this bath panel inside a tile. It was a small edit but it caused a lot of damage.
“I always said I would go back to plumbing after rugby but now I want to give back to rugby because I feel like it has given me a lot.”
Cleall Poppy, No. 8
Rugby can present a daunting challenge. But for Poppy Cleall, her previous life as a prison officer and the “scary” moments she featured more than prepared her for anything the sport can throw at her.
The No. 8 is renowned for its abrasive running and Cleall’s special ability to consistently cross the winning line has become part of the way the Red Roses play.
Dominating in contact is as much a matter of mindset as it is physical strength. It is this aspect that life as a prison guard has helped to strengthen. Aged just 21, Cleall began working at the Feltham Young Offenders Institution before moving to an adult facility in Bristol, taking his time in the prison service at just under three.
“Parts of the work were scary and confrontational,” Cleall says. “Things can change in the blink of an eye. Unpredictable is probably the best word to use. It’s not a nice place and being a prison guard is one of the toughest jobs you can have.
From her stay in prison, one incident in particular caught the attention of the Saracen rower.
“There are situations I’ve been in jail that have given me an adrenaline rush and a heightened sense of emotion that rugby has never replicated. There was a guy standing in front of me with a roll-on deodorant and on top he had made his own “rod” with a long screw that came out of his bed, he was holding it in front of him and I got stuck in the middle between him and another inmate behind me.
“My leg started shaking as I tried to calm him down. I managed to do it in the end and then took him back to his cell. When I closed the door behind him I was looking at my confused leg, as the tremors continued.
Cleall believes moments like this have reinforced a mentality that has benefited his rugby. Ironically, a no-prisoners attitude.
“I played rugby before I entered the prison service, which helped me when I started work. Then from the experiences I had in the service and the situations I faced, it created more resilience and reinforced that I would never back down from a confrontation or a challenge. There is “fight or flight”, but in a prison service, you can’t run away. have to deal with.”