As England finish 2016 on a run of 14 straight wins under Eddie Jones, one of his back room staff will be preparing the squad physically for the Six Nations for the first time.
Bob Stewart was Head of Medical Services at Gloucester for nine years until his move to Pennyhill Park, and to put that in perspective, the year he joined the club was the year Gloucester built their new (sic) South Stand. His first Premiership game was the one at Leeds where Lesley Vainikolo scored five tries on his debut, but despite being on the touchline since 2007 he rarely watches a game in a truly live sense.
“I’m always slightly behind the play, because I’m looking for how boys react to collisions or at breakdown situations” Stewart said. “I see most of the game, but often I use the big screen to catch up, which is slightly bizarre. At full time you hope that there are just a few bumps and bruises and maybe a dead leg or two, and generally you accept a couple of players may not be available for the following week. The RFU injury audit says that concussion, quad haematoma, ankle sprains and ligament damage to ankles and knees are the most common problems but every player is different and my job is about risk management.”
Stewart revealed that Gloucester has built a relationship with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham so that decisions surrounding injuries, particularly concussion, can be as well informed as possible. Beyond that, he saw the squad day in, day out at their Hartpury training base and admits that will be one of the facets he misses in his new role at the RFU.
“I got to know the players very well – some too well given the amount of time they spent with me” he said, smiling. “I have to give the boys the confidence that they can train and then perform at the weekend. Some of the younger ones, especially the faster guys, want to be able to operate at full pace or they feel they can’t function, so their mind set is as important as their clinical condition. Someone like Mike Tindall could function at 70% and Peter Buxton and Andy Hazell were pretty robust too, but the laws of physics say there will be injuries. The damage to James Simpson-Daniel’s ankle was one of the worst because it was a break and a dislocation. He was in a lot of pain and it’s never nice to see a player you’ve worked with for a long time go through that.”
The shaven headed Stewart – who was a centre for Glasgow club Hillhead Jordanhill in his playing days – picked out the 41-41 draw at Leicester (2011) and the Heineken Cup win over Toulouse (2012) as his most memorable matches.
“It’s an exciting time to be with England because there are quite a few new staff” Stewart went on. “Conversations started in April when it was clear one of the lead physio’s was leaving to join the Lawn Tennis Association. It’s important that I build relationships with the clubs, and because of where I live I’ll probably take Exeter, Bath and Worcester as well as Gloucester as we try to ensure the players are getting what they need both with their own teams and with England. The challenge is to look at every method and system to make the boys as fit and strong as we can because everyone reaps the benefits.”
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