SCOTLAND second-row Sarah Bonar has revealed she has been given elite athlete status by her employers the Royal Air Force which will allow her to focus on rugby on a full-time basis through to – and beyond – the World Cup later in the year.
A lot of the talk surrounding Scotland’s squad since the start of the ongoing TikTok Six Nations has focused on the apparent lack of contracts handed out by Scottish Rugby so far in one of the most important years in the growth of the women’s game.
In terms of support – financial and otherwise – Scotland, 10th in the world, currently have 35 players on “individual packages that suit their lives”.
On Saturday evening the squad will be in Parma for a very important round four clash in the Six Nations with the hosts boosted by last week’s news that the Italian Rugby Federation has given an extra investment of 350,000 euros to help 25 of their best players in the lead up to the World Cup which takes place in October and November in New Zealand.
That announcement means that the pressure continues to grow on the governing body in this country to make more funding and support available to members of the national squad in the coming weeks and months – but for now at least we know that Bonar has rugby at the forefront of her mind.
“I have now been given elite athlete status by the RAF so they are fully supporting me to train and play rugby full-time in order for me to be in the best place I can be when the World Cup comes around,” said the 27-year-old Aberdeen-born former teacher who is now part of the RAF police as an officer.
“I got the big tick from the Royal Air Force last month, I have a year or two [as an elite athlete] and then they will review it and, if I am still playing and competing at the same level, I may be allowed to continue on the scheme.
“I missed the England game in round one of the Six Nations as I was on RAF duty, but I was playing for them [versus the Navy] at that time, so I was just in a different shade of blue.
“Now I am pretty much a full-time rugby player. I will be moving to the RAF base at Odiham, near Basingstoke, soon and I can go in on my off days to keep my [RAF] skills up, but in terms of my actual duties they are to play rugby in the run up to the World Cup.
“The forces are brilliant with sportsmen and women and the RAF have been really supportive, pushing me to be the best athlete I can be going into the World Cup.”
In terms of the contract news from Italy and what it could mean for Scotland and women’s rugby around the world generally below the top nations like England and New Zealand, which already have full-time set-ups, Bonar adds: “That is absolutely brilliant from Italy.
“It is really good to see that a nation is getting behind a women’s team, but things won’t happen overnight [for them]. It will take a wee while for teams that become full-time to reap the benefits from it.”
The long-term aim for all unions involved in the women’s game has to be to have players doing that [becoming full-time]. Eventually that is the plan.”
For now though all Bonar’s focus is on this week’s game with Italy and, having lost the last five Test matches to these opponents – three in the Six Nations, one in an Autumn Test and one in a World Cup qualifier – since a 14-12 triumph at Broadwood in 2017, it is easy to see why.
Italy have no points from their three previous games in this year’s event while Scotland have just one point from three games and both are winless.
Bonar is set to win her 28th cap in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi and said: “It has been a bit of a rollercoaster so far for us certainly in the Six Nations. We have put together some really good parts of performances and now we are just trying to link them all for the full 80 minutes and I think we have got a really good opportunity to put things right, starting this weekend
“Italy are tough opponents. They do like to play with flair and they are really good at that kind of unstructured game. As a team we have had a good chunk of time together now to look at how they like to play.
“When we played them in the World Cup qualifiers [in September in the same stadium when Scotland lost 38-13] it was very warm and we felt like we were running through treacle half the time. Since then we have had time to strengthen, bond and really work out how we want to play as a squad, so I think this coming weekend is going to be a great opportunity to go at them and get the win.”