Bonner eyes summer success

reneeqa bears 1
A Premiership Women’s Rugby semi-final on Sunday and a Women’s Summer Series in Italy next month. Times are good for Reneeqa Bonner.

It’s already been a year to remember for the 20-year-old from North Somerset. A fortnight ago, she was named Bristol Bears’ Back of the Season following a breakout year, and this weekend sees Dave Ward’s side travel to London to face Saracens for a place in the final.

“I wasn’t expecting to get as much game time as I have this season, but I’ve been really enjoying it so I can’t really complain!” says the winger, who’s expecting a big atmosphere at the StoneX Stadium. “I’ve not been involved in a Premiership semi-final before, so I’m excited.

“Saracens are a hard team to beat, but all the girls are up for the challenge, especially going in as underdogs and off the back of a loss last week. We’re all up for it.”

Bonner scored a try in the victory against Saracens when the two sides met in Bristol back in March. “We all wanted it so bad, so winning that one was my favourite win of the season, because we earned it.”

Against Sale Sharks this season, Bonner beat 13 defenders, which the stats show as being the joint-most by any player in the league in 2023/24 (and the outright most by any player not to feature for the full 80 minutes). Put simply, she is hard to stop.

To say Bonner possesses an all-court game barely scratches the surface of her sporting background. Among the many sports she has turned her hand to are boxing, swimming, hockey and gymnastics. “I feel if you just go into one sport and don’t enjoy it, it can put you off sport in general,” she reasons. “But if you try a variety, you get a feel for them all and can pick out what you like.”

For her, that lightbulb moment (eventually) came at Clevedon Rugby Club. “It was the first ever girls team there. I went along for my first session but didn’t enjoy it because I was playing football at the time, and I joined quite late into the season,” remembers Bonner, who attended the same Clevedon School as former rugby players Huw Bennett and Nathan Catt. “So I gave it a rest until the next season, and that’s when I quit football to play rugby. I realised I liked the physical aspect of it more; it was a route for me to let loose.”

Her rugby journey then took her across to Frenchay, a suburb of Bristol, where she played for Dings Crusaders. “Being there really helped me get to where I am now. I then went to SGS College, where I got picked up for the Bears Centre of Excellence and England U18s.” It wasn’t long before Bonner got the invite to train with Bears’ senior team. “I really enjoyed that and clung to it. Thankfully it stuck.”

Unsurprisingly, sport is very much in the family. Bonner’s younger sister is a gymnast with Commonwealth and Olympic aspirations, whilst her elder brother is currently playing rugby for Stirling Wolves in Scotland,

Elsewhere, she gains inspiration from Bears teammate Deborah Wills, a Commonwealth Games medallist with GB Sevens in 2018. “She has literally been a gem,” says Bonner. “She is my mentor. Because she’s got so much experience, she’s just so good for me. She’s always there to help me and just give me advice on how to elevate my game.”

When Bonner made the England team for the 2022 Six Nations U18 Festival, she was the only Bristol player included. “It was quite nerve-wracking because I knew the girls but wasn’t necessarily friends with them,” she recalls. “But I got close with a lot of girls from that time, and a few of us went up into the 20s too, so it was nice to make friendships with people I’d never meet in normal circumstances.”

Now she can look forward to more of the same when the England U20s meet up to prepare for the Women’s Summer Series, which takes place in Parma from 4th to 14th July.

“I can’t wait to be in the sun! I enjoy meeting the other teams from different countries,” Bonner says. “I wouldn’t call it a culture shock, but you get to see what they’re about. When we went to France to play them recently, we had a little get-together after, which was really lush.”

Does being in the high-performance environment at Bristol on a regular basis make the transition to England age-grade camp easier? “It gives you the professionalism you need,” she answers, while reflecting that it’s as much about life skills as rugby skills. “Being able to make new connections with people, and taking the awkwardness out of meeting new them – especially in an environment that can be quite intense.”

Perhaps most importantly, the Women’s Summer Series represents a pathway to Bonner’s ultimate goal: “I aspire to be a Red Rose when I’m older. Being in an international set-up, getting a little taste of it now, will help with that.”

Find out more about Bristol Bears’ semi-final against Saracens this Sunday here.