Meet the man who makes the Blitzboks tick

Posted on 19 December 2019

Mediclinic Milnerton’s Hugh Everson is the preferred physiotherapist of the South African national rugby sevens team. He tells us what it takes to excel in this fast-paced, action-packed version of the sport. 

“When there are seven players on the field there is nowhere to hide. And between games, you have a couple of hours to recover. So it is hectic. And if you’re not 100% – that’s game over.”

Hugh Everson is a physiotherapist with rooms at Mediclinic Milnerton. He’s also the man responsible for the physical wellbeing of a group of elite athletes widely regarded as the best to ever play their sport. 

As the preferred physiotherapist for the South African national rugby sevens team, Everson follows the Blitzboks as they travel between tournaments in Dubai, Sydney, Las Vegas and Hong Kong, among others. 

Last year, Everson became only the second physio ever to attend 100 HSBC World Series tournaments. 

Everson started working with the team in 2007. Twelve years later, he describes the change in the sport as massive: “Before, the players would come together for Sevens tournaments from their rugby unions. They’d be together for two or three weeks, play, then go back. So it had a part-time element to it. In 2007, all of that changed when we brought together the first, full-time contracted Sevens squad in SA.”

The game has evolved dramatically in the time since, he says. “The South African public is especially interested in and passionate about this form of the game. Back then, the local tournament was held in George, and it became so popular that it simply outgrew that stadium.”

Today, the HSBC Cape Town 7s is one of the best-attended sports events in the country. This year it expanded further, adding a HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series for the first time, and drawing over 100 000 spectators over three days. 

In all, there are 10 events spread over a calendar year. At each event, 16 men’s teams will play each other in groups of four. If a team makes it through to the final, they can expect to play six games over a weekend. This is a hectic schedule that is physically demanding on the players. 

Then there is the game itself: with only seven players per side, playing on a full-sized rugby field, this form of rugby is fast and tiring. As players have more space in which to move, they can build up serious pace leading into tackles. The result: injuries. 

“When we look into the data from World Series Sevens events, it’s clear knee and hamstring injuries are common,” says Clint Readhead, medical manager: SA Rugby. “Players in this format are constantly twisting and turning, making a lot of fast and sudden changes in direction. That puts strain on their muscles, tendons and ligaments, and they’re at risk of soft tissue damage.”

Part of Everson’s role with the Blitzboks is to manage that risk. 

“These players are very well conditioned,” he says, “and they have complex prehabilitation and rehabilitation plans to help them manage the workload. For us player welfare always comes first. We never put a player at risk, no matter the match situation – we are committed to looking after these guys in the long term”

This management is more effective now that the players are contracted to play Sevens as a standalone sport, he explains. “In the old days, we would have to try to manage their workload in conjunction with their other responsibilities – their unions, national duty. Now, we have a single group with a singular focus.”

Mediclinic and ER24 have a close relationship with the Blitzboks and SA Rugby. Mediclinic’s sports events-specific team of doctors, nurses and medics are the preferred medical support service at the Cape Town 7s event, and ER24 is the local service provider tasked with implementing the Boksmart head and spinal injury protocols at all age-level rugby events across the country. 

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