Saracens and England prop Hannah Botterman has left her painter and decorator days behind to become a professional rugby player

Hannah Botterman swaps painting and decorating for professional rugby

As Hannah Botterman leads the way into the Saracens changing room at Allianz Park, finding a quieter spot to do this interview, we pass the word ‘energy’ emblazoned on the wall. It is there to motivate the home team before going out onto the pitch but it is also a fitting word to describe Botterman.

The Saracens and England prop calls herself “sociable” and she’s a popular team member. She’s also an all-action front-rower, her recent switch from tighthead to loosehead allowing her to get her hands on the ball more often.

“Loosehead is taxing but it’s not as taxing as tighthead, where there is a lot more weight going through you (at scrums),” explains the teenager. “For me, playing loosehead means I can get around the park a bit more, carry more and get into the game more.”

The move across the front row came about because of injuries at Saracens at the end of last season and she played at loosehead in their Tyrrells Premier 15s final triumph. She’s adapted well to No 1, just as she did when moving from centre to prop a couple of years ago.

“They’re technical positions and I’m enjoying learning about it. I watch videos to see different scrums and how people deal with different situations.
As I’ve been a tighthead, I know how looseheads have manipulated me and can understand both parts of the scrum, so it’s about implementing that.”

Hannah Botterman swaps painting and decorating for professional rugby

Big cheer: Hannah Botterman scores a try in last year’s Premier 15s final (Getty Images)

Two players’ games she admires are Ellis Genge, for his aggressive carries, and Mako Vunipola, for his ball skills, while she describes Vickii Cornborough – her main rival for the England No 1 shirt – as “very technical, an amazing scrummager and unbelievably fit”.

It’s Cornborough who she names as her toughest opponent in her early days at tighthead. Yet for all the talk of other players, she wants to develop her own style going forward rather than simply try to replicate others – and at just 19 she has plenty of time to do that.

She has already made huge strides since she was first called into the national set-up for the 2017 autumn Internationals against Canada – and it is that experience that made her take the sport more seriously.

“As much as playing for England and winning my first cap was incredible, I did feel like I was going to die throughout the whole of it! It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience but I wasn’t in the right shape for what I wanted to achieve.

“I feel more comfortable with where I’m at now compared to last season. I’m more physically mature, I’ve lost a lot of weight and aerobically I’ve got a lot fitter. I played 35 minutes in my first Test, then last autumn I played 40 minutes and two 60 minutes, so within a year I’ve made quite big physical strides.

Hannah Botterman swaps painting and decorating for professional rugby

Top trio: Marlie Packer, Jess Breach and Hannah Botterman after beating Wales (Getty Images)

“I had a chat to myself after I’d got called into camp, ‘You’ve got to stick your head down and start training properly, not just treat it as fun’. I’ve taken it more seriously and I’ve bettered myself, but I feel there is still so much more to come.”

A professional England contract will help too. Up until December, Botterman was working as a painter and decorator, a job that actually caused a shoulder injury due to a lot of overhead painting – far from ideal for a prop.

Now she is able to work on her rugby full-time, whether in England camps with the whole squad or at Saracens in a smaller group, and crucially has a chance to rest rather than being fatigued from matches, training and work.

She recognises there will be more expected of England now they are full-time athletes, but she is pleased there is a route to professional rugby for young female players going forward.

“We can’t allow the pressure to get to us. We’re so early in the process of working together and we’ve got lots of new faces, and our aim is to be in the best position possible when it comes to the World Cup (2021). Obviously we want to win now and there will be a lot of pressure on us, but people will also hopefully understand that we’ve only been contracted for two months.

“The contracts are amazing. It allows girls to aspire to be a professional sportswoman and it will make the pool of players so much stronger, keeping everyone on their toes and at their best.”

Botterman is bringing plenty of energy to England’s Six Nations campaign.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Rugby World magazine.

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