#PowerOfRecognition: Rene Naylor

Renowned physiotherapist with over 20 years of experience in rugby, Rene Naylor exemplifies the profound impact recognition can have. 

In 2008, she assumed the role of the Springbok physiotherapist, and her unwavering commitment and exceptional expertise have consistently made her an invaluable asset to the team.

Naylor’s remarkable journey reached new heights when she received the Ministerial Recognition of Excellence award on the prestigious Momentum gsport Awards stage in 2020.

Reflecting on this unexpected honour, she humbly expressed her gratitude, recognising the long line of women who paved the way for her and those who will follow in her footsteps, “I hope this recognition inspires more girls from the Cape Flats to dream,” she said. “But more importantly, I hope it encourages corporations to invest in the dreams of young girls.”

As she continues to make her mark in the world of rugby, Naylor remains an inspiration to both aspiring physiotherapists and athletes alike, as she chats to gsport Intern Lungile Matsuma.

Rene, thank you so much for chatting to us! Please can you tell us about your role as a sports physiotherapist for the rugby team heading to the Rugby World Cup 2023? 

My role as a physiotherapist involves injury prevention, injury management, and recovery to optimise performance. I have been involved in rugby for over 20 years, starting at the club and provincial level in 1996 before being appointed as the Springbok physio in 2008.

What are some of your memorable moments or experiences you’ve had while working with the rugby team?

The day I received the call to join the Springboks is unforgettable. It was unexpected and special, although it also brought a sense of responsibility to succeed and pave the way for more women in this position. The most memorable experience so far has been the 2019 Rugby World Cup win. I had been part of the Springbok team since 2008 and had been involved in two previous World Cups, so it was truly a third time lucky moment!

Along your journey, is there a particular injury or recovery process that stands out to you?

Working hard to get Jean de Villiers fit to be captain for the 2015 World Cup after his knee dislocation was both challenging and rewarding. We worked tirelessly for several hours a day, even on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Every day mattered when we had a tight timeline. I’ve had a similar experience recently with Siya Kolisi, starting his recovery process just two days after his surgery. We had to be meticulous in monitoring and managing his progress, setting weekly goals and involving a supportive team of specialists from around the world. A detailed process, where the player’s mindset remained crucial for success.

With the 2023 Rugby World Cup approaching, how have you been preparing the team from a physiotherapist’s perspective? 

The management began our preparation well in advance of the competition. As a physiotherapist, my main focus is on injury prevention and management. To prevent injuries, we create injury risk profiles for players, identifying areas that may increase their risk. It is crucial for players to take ownership of this process and work on correcting any muscle imbalances or inefficiencies. In terms of injury management, we ensure players have access to the best clinical practices and stay updated with the latest research to facilitate effective recovery.

What advice would you give to aspiring sports physiotherapists who want to make a difference in supporting athletes at a professional level? 

My advice would be to understand the coach’s philosophy and the team ethos, as well as adopt a winning mentality. Treat all players as if they are World Cup winning captains and be authentic with yourself and your team. Be prepared to make sacrifices and prioritise player well-being. Additionally, it’s important to understand as much as possible about the game plan and play sheet to effectively contribute to the team’s success.

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Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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