Legendary Scotland team doctor James Robson set to retire

‘He helped save my life that day’: Will Greenwood and Thom Evans lead tributes as legendary Scotland doctor James Robson confirms he will retire after the Six Nations

  • Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer James Robson will retire after 30 years 
  • Robson saved the life of Greenwood during the 1997 Lions tour of South Africa 
  • He has worked at eight Rugby World Cups and has earned praise from players 

The quick thinking of Doctor James Robson saved the life of Will Greenwood on the 1997 Lions tour of South Africa when he nearly choked to death.

He was again to the fore when Scotland international Thom Evans nearly broke his neck against Wales in Cardiff back in 2010.

The Scotsman’s compassion for all the players he dealt with and his ground-breaking work on concussion won him respect and friends the world over.

Now, after 30 years as Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Robson is to retire at the end of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations.

He was first involved with Scotland as a physio, then team doctor, before becoming chief medical officer for Scottish Rugby in 2005. He recently completed his eighth and final rugby World Cup, having only missed 1999 due to medical commitments to other Scotland teams.

Scottish Rugby’s medical officer James Robson will retire at the conclusion of the Six Nations

England World Cup winner Will Greenwood was saved by Robson after he was knocked unconscious and swallowed his tongue during the Lions tour in 1997

Aside from being a pillar of the Scottish rugby community, he was also involved in six British and Irish Lions tours from 1993 to 2013, which is testament to the respect he was held in across the international game.

Indeed World Cup winner Greenwood credited him for saving his life when he was knocked unconscious and swallowed his tongue when he hit his head on a rock-hard Bloemfontein pitch on the 1997 Lions tour. Doctor Robson managed to keep his airways open and helped administer emergency treatment to him in the dressing room.

‘Thank you never seems enough,’ Greenwood said about the doctor’s actions that day. ‘I have no hesitation in repeating, with the information we got after that injury, that he saved my life.’

Scotland winger Evans thought he was going to die, or at the very least be paralysed for life, when he was injured in a tackle against Wales with Doctor Robson’s actions helping save him.

In an exclusive interview at the time with Mail Sport, he said: ‘I fell to the ground and immediately lost all sensation in my body. I knew I was in real trouble, then the pain came.

‘Seconds later, Doctor Robson and Lisa, one of the physios from my club, Glasgow Warriors, were at my side. James grabbed me and kept me in the position I had fallen in, slightly on my side. He told me later if he had moved me even a millimetre, my neck would have broken and I would have died. He helped save my life that day.’

The medic, who also helped the legendary Doddie Weir when he was invalided out of the 1997 Lions tour after a horrific tackle injured his knee, said he had loved his time in rugby.

‘This has easily been one of the hardest decisions of my life,’ he said. ‘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.

Thom Evans, pictured with fiance Nicole Scherzinger, praised the actions of Robson after he was seriously injured in a tackle against Wales in 2010

Evans credits Robson, centre, for saving his life after keeping him in the position he had fallen to prevent him from breaking his neck

‘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 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’ll certainly miss running the touchline at Murrayfield and feeling the energy off the crowd.’

In recent years, Doctor Robson’s knowledge has been called upon to support the promotion of concussion awareness and research studies to deliver player welfare initiatives, both in Scotland and internationally. 

He was a leading advocate of the national concussion guidance ‘If in Doubt, Sit them Out’ launched in 2014, which has now been adopted as UK-wide policy.

He also helped develop rugby’s first Brain Health Clinic, in conjunction with the Brain Health Trust, based at Murrayfield which invites former international players to have a brain health check. 

He was inducted into the Scottish Rugby 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 will now begin a recruitment process to separately appoint a new chief medical officer and Scotland team doctor.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend led tributes to Robson as he announced his retirement

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend led the tributes to Doctor Robson as he announced his retirement. ‘He has made us a better team and continues to be a brilliant team doctor, loved and respected by all of us,’ said Townsend.

‘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.’

Although it is understood that there is no direct correlation between his retirement and the apology issued to the Cattigan family by Scottish Rugby regarding the death of their daughter Siobhan, it is believed he was hurt personally by some of the accusations aimed at him.

Scottish Rugby chairman John McGuigan met Siobhan’s parents privately before stating that his organisation ‘should have managed this tragic situation better.’

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