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Even the most spectacular of Rugby World Cup finals will struggle to match the lofty heights scaled by Marlie Packer’s intrepid grandfather this week. Ken Packer is 85 years old but that did not stop him jumping off the Sky Tower, New Zealand’s tallest building, attached only to a couple of thin cables. If England show the same unflinching, can-do spirit at Eden Park, the rest will take care of itself.

His warrior granddaughter, preparing for her third successive World Cup final, was as stunned and impressed as everyone else. “We couldn’t believe it. They came around and said anyone over the age of 75 could go free. They gave him a special thing for his glasses so they didn’t fall off his head and off he went. He loved it. When we walked back past it later in the evening, he was looking up and saying ‘I can’t believe I jumped off that.’”

Welcome to the Packer family, for whom impossible is nothing. Before he retired Ken helped to build helicopters at Westland’s factory in Yeovil and you could say Marlie performs a similar role for England, specialising in the unglamorous nuts and bolts that make her team fly. As a vital breakdown presence, maul poacher and all-round energiser, Packer will have a big say in whether the Red Roses can end up on top of the world.

To watch her piling into contact, seemingly oblivious to the consequences, is to wonder if she even feels pain. The answer, curiously, is yes and no. “I’m a bit of a wimp off the field. I’m A Celebrity would be my worst nightmare. I don’t like creepy crawlies. I don’t like being cold either. But when I’m on the pitch I’m absolutely fine. As soon as I cross that line a switch goes inside me. I can be battered and bruised and you’ll still have to drag me off.”

She also happens to be the only mother in this Red Roses squad, with a two-year-old son back at home. If being 11,500 miles away for six weeks has not always been straightforward – “I’ve been missing him but we’re in the home straight now” – their regular calls have been some consolation. “This morning he had his dragon book out and was telling me the colour of the dragons. He calls me Mummy Pickle, though it can be hard on FaceTime sometimes because he likes pressing red buttons. I have to say to him, ‘Don’t put the phone down on me, Oliver.’”

Just as well, perhaps, that the 33-year-old Packer is about to win her 89th cap and knows how to switch on and off before a big match. Those past two finals – one win, one loss – have also taught her plenty about seizing the day. “The first time [in 2014] I was a young whippersnapper. Me and Alex Matthews were just there to have a good time … I can remember us jumping around our room together after selection for the final had been announced. I was starting and she was on the bench. If you’d asked us five weeks beforehand we’d never have thought it was going to happen.”

Even better was her other favourite moment from that tournament, shortly after coming off the bench against Ireland in the semi-final and contributing two tries. “Five minutes before the final whistle you just knew it was a very special team. Something had clicked and I’d never felt like that in a team before. I knew going into that 2014 final against Canada that we were never going to lose it.”

The 2017 experience was rather different, New Zealand roaring back from 17-10 at half-time to win 41-32. “We’d gone 16 or 17 games without losing going into that World Cup. We thought we were in a really good place and the first half was pitch perfect. But New Zealand knew their pick-and-go game was our achilles heel. We began to get a creeping feeling it was slipping away – and then I got taken off and had no control over anything. Were we looking sufficiently deep down at ourselves in certain regards in 2017? Either way, the better team won on the night.”

This time, though, Packer and her teammates have their eyes firmly on the prize. The semi-final against Canada may have been tense at times but England’s no-nonsense flanker reckons her side will take some beating in the final. “You don’t get a winning streak like we’ve had by luck. We just need to make sure we’re us. I’m not worried about New Zealand. They’ve won multiple World Cups and we’re in their back yard. But I’ve been part of a team that’s beaten them here before. We’ve also played in hostile environments in France so we know what that’s like. We just know we have to have a good start, keep that scoreboard ticking over and keep being physical in all aspects of our game.”

And when the going gets tough her high-flying grandpa’s example will not be her only motivation. “I’ve not come here to have a repeat of 2017. I want to go home with the thing I’ve been training for for the last five years. For me it’s all or nothing. It’s 80 minutes and it just a matter of whether we’re going home with the trophy and a gold medal or whether we’re going home as losers. No one ever remembers second place.”