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As England prepare to face Scotland in their final game of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations at Twickenham Stadium, Red Roses prop Hannah Botterman talks about her journey of falling back in love with rugby, having England internationals in the family and the joy at representing her country - she sat down with England Rugby to talk about her rise.
At 17 Hannah Botterman had had enough of rugby; she just wanted to be a normal teenager. A year later she was playing for England.
“At 16 I went away to Hartpury College. It was an amazing experience but I didn’t love rugby as much as when I went,” said the 19 year old.
“I was just doing it for fun and then I was training every day. Hartpury’s an incredible set up to be in but for me it didn’t work for where I was in my life at that point.”
It seemed that Botterman’s life was headed in a different direction when a chance invitation to play sevens in the summer of 2017 saw the first step to getting back into the game. From there, she joined Saracens for pre-season training for the inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s campaign.
“The first game of the season was Waterloo away. I came off the bench and I just enjoyed it. I was making a difference and thought I brought the energy. That was when I was like ‘actually, I need to stick my head down here and get better, fitter and just try and get as far as I can.’
“I was enjoying it again and fell back in love with it.”
Such was her impact at her club that two months after that debut for Saracens, she received a call-up to the England squad and would make her international debut as a replacement in a 79-5 win against Canada at her club home Allianz Park.
Asked how she reflects on that time, there’s a look of innocent surprise as she says: “I still haven’t really grasped the concept of what actually happened. I’d just got back into rugby and within four or five months I was getting my first cap for England – it was absolutely insane. There are no words!”
The 2017/18 season would be some comeback. Earning two caps during that November series, Hannah scored a rampaging try as Saracens beat Harlequins in the Tyrrells Premier 15s final and then toured Canada with England Under 20s last summer.
On reflection, it is perhaps no surprise that Botterman would end up a Red Rose. Since the age of four rugby has been part of her life when she was going down to Datchworth RFC where she would watch her dad play on a Saturday and her mum on Sunday. The family connections get even more impressive when you can list your uncle, Gregg Botterman, and auntie, Jane Everett, as former England front rowers.
“I never used them as much as I should’ve,” she now reflects. “I never went to speak to them about what I should have done. "I never had a connection with a sport like I did with rugby.”
“It was more that I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I didn’t want to listen to anyone – obviously looking back now, that’s never the best thing to do.”
Asked which one of her family has had the biggest impact on her career so far, Botterman says, “It’s cliché but my dad. He coached me at Datchworth and he still coaches me now really.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without him – he took me everywhere, he gives tips and advice and everything that a dad does. He never gave up on me even when I was giving up on myself and not wanting to play rugby. He never gave up hope.”
From Datchworth, Botterman moved to Welwyn RFC aged 12 where she progressed through the age groups up until U18s spending the majority of time playing centre. Although she played club rugby, Botterman would also try a number of different sports, but rugby reigned.
“I’d do everything at school but, for me, rugby was my outlet.
“I’d met some amazing friends and it was somewhere you could go and hit a pad and hit someone and it’s not bad – it was a nice way for me to get my aggression out. I wasn’t an angry kid but I’d never had a connection with a sport like I did with rugby.”
That outlet has now become a full-time job as Botterman left behind labouring work involving painting and decorating to become one of 28 players named in England’s full-time professional XVs squad at the start of the year.
With nine caps to her name so far, singing God Save The Queen in an England shirt is becoming more of a regular occurrence but does she still get the same buzz from the national anthem?
“I don’t think you understand it until you’ve done it.
“With my first couple of caps I didn’t get them how I would have wanted as, unfortunately, there were a couple of injuries and I was there on the back of that. I wanted to be there because I’d worked as hard as everyone else and really deserved to be there, but that’s how I feel more coming into this year, that I’ve sort of earned my place.
“It was not that I didn’t deserve to be there as I was there for a reason, but I hadn’t put the work in that I thought I should have to get there. After that first cap I was head down, my work ethic was through the roof and I didn’t stop.”
And asked what it feels like playing for England after all that work: “I struggle to describe the feeling - it’s pure happiness, there’s no feeling like it.”