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Sports PhysiotherapyMar 5, 2024

James Robson, a physio who became a pillar of Scottish Rugby for three decades, will retire in March

James Robson – a physiotherapist by background who went on to study medicine and become a GP – is to stand down as Scotland’s chief medical officer and team doctor at the end of this month after holding key roles with the national rugby team over three decades.

Dr Robson announced at the end of last year that he had taken ‘one of the hardest decisions of my life’ by deciding that his work with Scottish Rugby would end with the completion of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations tournament.

He was carried shoulder high by Scotland players on the pitch after they beat England on home turf at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby, on 24 February. After facing Italy on Saturday (9 March), Scotland play Ireland in their final match of the tournament the following week.

Dr Robson’s announcement left Scottish Rugby with a challenge: it would have to recruit two candidates to fill Dr Robson’s boots – a new chief medical officer and a team doctor. He first became involved with Scottish Rugby as a physio in 1991, before becoming team doctor and then being appointed as chief medical officer in 2005.

Photo Credit: British & Irish Lions
James Robson's association with Scottish rugby began in 1991 when he was a physio


'Hard' decision

In an interview posted on Scottish Rugby’s website last December, Dr Robson said: ‘This has easily been one of the hardest decisions of my life. I have given the sport and Scottish rugby all I could over the past 30 years and am incredibly grateful for the wonderful experiences and life-long friendships it has afforded me.

‘I have always wanted to do the best job I could and this role has been my life. I’ve often said caring for the players is like looking after a second family and none of this could have been possible without the support I’ve had from my own family through my wife Christine and daughters, Eleanor and Emma.

‘Rugby is a fantastic sport and has given me a huge amount, which I hope I have been able to repay over the years. It is vital we continue to look after everyone who plays our great game, at every level, and I know there are many people across the rugby world working hard to ensure they do.

He added: ‘I’ll certainly miss running the touchline at Murrayfield and feeling the energy off the crowd.'

The article states that Dr Robson has counselled hundreds of players 'outside the medical sphere' during his career. As he put it himself recently: 'You become confidant, GP, uncle, father, and confessor'.

Role with the Brain Health Clinic

Dr Robson helped to promote concussion awareness and research studies that supported player welfare initiatives – both in Scotland and internationally – and was a being a leading advocate of the ‘If in Doubt, Sit them Out’ national guidance. This has now been adopted as UK-wide policy through the latest Department for Culture, Media and Sport concussion advice covering all sports.

I have given the sport and Scottish rugby all I could over the past 30 years and am incredibly grateful for the wonderful experiences and life-long friendships it has afforded me [James Robson]

Dr Robson also helped develop the sport’s first Brain Health Clinic, in conjunction with the Brain Health Trust. Based at Scottish Gas Murrayfield, it offers a service in which former international players are invited to have brain health checks.

Plaudits flow in for 'brilliant' Dr Robson

In recognition of his service to the sport, Scottish Rugby inducted Dr Robson into its Hall of Fame in 2017 and he was awarded an MBE in 2018.

Mark Dodson, Scottish Rugby chief executive, said: ‘Player and people welfare have, and always will be, the motivations that make James the selfless, dedicated and personable rugby medic that he is. We will all miss him.

‘His commitment to player wellbeing and safety has shone for more than 30-years at all levels of the game and his contribution to improving player welfare for generations of Scottish players has been immense.

Mr Dodson added: 'Scottish Rugby is hugely proud to have had James as our medical standard bearer. I would like to personally thank him for all that he has done for the game, our players and people, and wish him a happy retirement in the company of his wife Christine and his daughters Eleanor and Emma.'

Meanwhile, Scotland head coach and former player Gregor Townsend said: ‘On behalf of the Scotland team and management, we thank James for all his efforts, wisdom and one-liners over the years. He has made us a better team and continues to be a brilliant team doctor, loved and respected by all of us.’

The Doc's British & Irish Lions role

Aside from being a key figure within the Scottish rugby community, ‘the Doc’, as Dr Robson was nicknamed, also supported various British & Irish Lions squads.

In an article appearing the side’s website, journalist Chis Jones says that Dr Robson's involvement in six tours was ‘testament to the respect he was held in across the game’. The Lions’ 1997 series win in South Africa is ‘particularly etched’ in Dr Robson’s memory because of the ‘life-saving care he gave to England centre Will Greenwood, who suffered a serious head injury in a tour match’.

Mr Jones adds: ‘I had the privilege of touring with Robson on those six Lions campaigns and presented him with a Rugby Union Writers’ Club tie in 1993 in recognition of the fact he had treated more members of the travelling media for various ailments than players in New Zealand during a particularly wet trip.’

Author: Ian A McMillan
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