I was sad to read that my former team mate at Leicester Tigers Manu Tuilagi is ruled out for the rest of the season due to an ongoing injury. Director of Rugby at Tigers Richard Cockerill commented on his player’s progress, sharing the news no Tigers’ or England fan wanted to hear.
“He’s improving all the time but it’s a long process. The likelihood now is he may not play this season.”
With the Rugby World Cup on his doorstep in just a few months it must be frustrating for the English Centre to realise he is not making the progress he had hoped. Cockerill stressed that Tuilagi will be fit to join the England camp in June. “Hopefully he will be involved in the World Cup warm-ups and have a huge say in how England do.”
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 29, 2015
Fellow British and Irish Lion Sean O’Brien should serve as inspiration to Tuilagi in his fight back to fitness. The Leinster and Irish Flanker was out for over a year with a shoulder problem that saw him undergo two reconstruction surgeries in less than a year.
His performances in the 6 Nations this year did not suggest a player with just a few games under his belt. In his first game back he announced his return when he cleared out three French players. His two tries and a Man on the Match performance in the final game capped off an impressive campaign and proved he is back to his effective self.
“I never had any doubts and I said that before. I had doubts maybe leading back into the year when it was at me and what were we going to get done,” he told the British and Irish Lions website.
“But once I had the second operation there was never one ounce of trouble or one setback with my shoulder. Even the strength and conditioning staff were like: ‘this is going nearly too well,’ type of thing. The more game time I’ve got the better it’s got as well.”
“I think it’s just getting used to getting hit again, all those type of things – lifting, being over a ball – the more you do that the more confidence you have.”
How to Deal with Rugby Injuries
When I spoke to Tuilagi and O’Brien for Rugby Revealed last year, both were dealing with their injuries and I asked them how they coped with rugby injuries. For them, and other top names, it’s all about focus.
Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t
Injuries can happen in any sport but they don’t have to impact your progress. Targets are important when you are fit and they are equally important when you get an injury.
While you have to be realistic about the recovery time and what you can do, it doesn’t mean you can’t still keep improving as a player during your time on the side lines.
USA’s & Saracen’s Chris Wyles recommends thinking of your next goal. “That might be when you can next get on the pitch, or you can be in the weights room, next do a full squat. It’s about focusing on the next job and accepting that it’s the reality of being a rugby player.”
“Look at your performance plan and find what you can work on while you’re injured that won’t affect my injury or hinder my recovery,” advises Harlequins Head of Performance John Dams. “Do something to get you closer to your goals.”
Wyles Sarries’ team mate Jim Hamilton suggests there are always areas you can work on. “If you are injured, work on other parts of your body or other areas of your game, such as game analysis.”
Scotland lose Jim Hamilton and Duncan Taylor to injury ahead of match against Canada pic.twitter.com/dt5nrfLrN4
— 360daynews (@360daynews) June 9, 2014
Focus on the positives
Sometimes the frustration and disappointment of rugby injuries can be more debilitating than the physical injury itself and focusing on the bigger picture can help. This wasn’t Sean O’Brien’s first injury and he knows initially getting things into perspective can be tough.
“It’s a bit of a mental obstacle the first week or two being injured but after that you should be thinking “Right, what can I do now? How can I improve?”
He stresses it comes with the game. “It’s part and parcel of rugby. You just have to look forward and while it’s disappointing at the time you have to focus on the fact it’s something that can be fixed hopefully and that you can move on from.”
Los Pumas Felipe Contepomi takes a philosophical view “You might not understand when an injury occurs but later you’ll find out that it happened for a good reason. Always take an injury as an opportunity to become better and stronger.”
“When you get injured there’s nothing you can do,” says Manu Tuilagi. “I keep believing I will get through it.”
— LineoutCoach (@LineoutCoach) March 24, 2015
Focus away from rugby
Getting a balance between rugby and your off field life is always important but especially when you are injured. Your interests away from the game can come to your rescue when you are healing. Manu Tuilagi suggests following his example and learning a new skill. “When I was in the Academy at Leicester I tore my hamstring and was out for 8 weeks. It’s frustrating. I keep myself moving by teaching myself other things like playing the guitar. I try to keep my mind off the rugby and off the injury.”
— Kat Anastasi (@KatAnastasi) March 18, 2015
Injury can be a Game Changer
While an injury is never welcomed its worth remembering rugby injuries can kick start a career. Ask Welsh Winger George North.
“I was playing 7 in college when I picked up a collarbone injury. I came back faster than before, moved into the Backs and onto the wing and I haven’t looked back from then!”
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com