DR JAMES ROBSON MBE will retire from his roles as Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer and Scotland Team Doctor at the end of the upcoming Six Nations, bringing to an end a career in which he has spent over 30 years working in the sport.
“This has easily been one of the hardest decisions of my life,” he said. “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.
“I’ll certainly miss running the touchline at Murrayfield and feeling the energy off the crowd.”
Originally from Whitehaven in Cumbria, Robson played rugby for Edinburgh Wanderers and graduated as a physiotherapist from Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh in 1980, before going on to study medicine at the University of Dundee in 1982. While a medical student he became the physiotherapist with North and Midlands distirct side, and went on to work as a GP in Dundee for 13 years, before moving into rugby full-time.
His first involvement with Scottish Rugby came in 1991 when he was a physio on the development tour to North America. That led to his involvement in the 1991 Rugby World Cup backroom team, and his career in rugby developed from there. He has been to eight World Cups, on six Lions tours and became Chief Medical Officer for Scottish Rugby in 2005.
In recent years his work and knowledge has been called upon to support the promotion of concussion awareness and research studies to support player welfare initiatives, both in Scotland and internationally.
He was a leading advocate of the national guidance ‘If in Doubt, Sit them Out’ launched in 2014, which has now been adopted as UK-wide policy through the latest DCMS concussion advice across all sports, and helped develop the sport’s first Brain Health Clinic, in conjunction with the Brain Health Trust, which invites former international players to have a brain health check.
Scottish Rugby inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2017 in recognition of his service to the sport and he was awarded an MBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours.
Scottish Rugby CEO, Mark Dodson, 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.
“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.”
Scotland head coach 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.”
“And, from a personal perspective, it will be an emotional day when James makes his final appearance as Scotland Team doctor. James was on duty when I won my first cap 30 years ago, and he was a massive help for me throughout my playing career. He has since become a trusted colleague, who has given outstanding service, guidance and support in my time as coach of the national team. We will be doing all we can to make his last tournament with the team as enjoyable and successful as possible.”
In 2010, Robson received what has been described as the “ultimate recognition” from a top medical body when he was awarded the ‘Fellowship ad hominem’ from The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in recognition of his efforts treating Scotland winger Thom Evans, who suffered a complicated neck injury during a Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff.
Evans, who made a full recovery, later said: “Dr James Robson is one of a kind. I will always be incredibly grateful for what he did for me that day in Cardiff in 2010. His ability and desire to always put the players wellbeing above anything else, is truly remarkable. I owe him the life I have today for his efforts and experience.
“Away from the field, he’s just a brilliant person to have around. Always bringing a positive energy and a fun camaraderie to everything he does. A cracking table tennis player too may I add!
“The SRU is very for fortunate to have him and he deserves every accolade under the sun for his contributions to Scottish Rugby.”
Another significant moment in his career was during iconic British and Irish Lions series win over South Africa in 1997 when he helped provide life-saving care to England centre Will Greenwood, who suffered a serious head injury in a tour match against Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
“He’s just an amazing human being, and that’s the most important thing,” said Greenwood. “In amongst Calcutta Cups, on the touchline you’d always have a laugh and a joke. There’s more to life than rugby and when you saw the Doc – when you see a really good mate – you have a little giggle, maybe nick a water bottle from the Scottish water bag, have a chat about family, and have a pint after.”