Louis Rawlings finds the prime role to help Cambridge Rugby Club cause
Louis Rawlings has a very different role at Cambridge Rugby Club this season.
Down the years, his wiry frame masked a physicality and tenacity for a limpet-like tackle that few could evade, but it took its toll on the blind-side flanker.
Injuries became part and parcel of Rawlings’ game, and the severity worsened three years ago with nerve damage to his left arm that made it difficult to lift it above his head and impossible to grip things.
“We managed to rehab that back to full strength and I got back playing, but then through the last season I picked up quite a few stingers, which is when you stretch the nerve in your neck and it sends a pain down your arm,” explains Rawlings.
“I had quite a few of those through the season, and then against Chinnor I got my arm caught and had a lot of pain through the nerve.
“It just got worse, along my knuckles in my left hand was numb and I had limited movement in two of my fingers.
“It’s one of those things that I could probably rehab back to full strength, but at the same time I’ve got quite a physical job and I can’t just keep injuring myself and playing, and injuring and playing because one day it would just get too much. I would rather be able to work.”
The 26-year-old therefore made the decision to retire.
Rawlings admits it was a tough call to make, having played for the club for seven years, but in many ways the choice was made for him and the lockdown helped things sink in.
“I spoke to Richie (Williams, the Cambridge director of rugby) before Covid, but it made it easier in terms of just giving me that time away from it all and letting it all digest,” he says.
“Richie had asked me if I had thought about becoming part of the coaching team. I didn’t really think about it, he came up with the idea there and then, and I put a bit more thought into it.
“I didn’t realise there was an opportunity there, but Richie brought it up and here we are.”
That is in a role sitting between head of medical Paul Carter and head of strength and conditioning Ben Fitches to help the rehabilitation to get injured players back on the pitch.
It fits perfectly with both his time as a first-team player, with awareness of squad demands, and his day job as a neurological physio with Prime Physio, helping rehab people with a range of conditions such as spinal injuries, strokes and MS.
“You see a lot of amazing people and it puts things into perspective with my arm,” he says.
“You see some amazing results and everyone is motivated – it is really fulfilling and really good job satisfaction.”
It was a background that also helped shape Rawlings’ decision to retire.
“I knew rehab is quite hard for neuro and nerves so I knew that if I just keep repeating it, it’s not necessarily going to keep getting better – eventually it would reach a stopping point,” he says.
“You see people like Rob Horne (the Northampton Saints centre who had to retire) where the arm just goes paralysed, and that was always on my mind that I just don’t want to push it to that point where I then won’t be able to work as well as I won’t be able to play rugby.
“The hardest part of retiring and giving up rugby is that you do just miss being with your mates three or four times a week.
“I know you can see them outside, but there is something different about training with each other and having a laugh.
“It’s the hardest part of retiring, so it was nice to be given the opportunity [to join the coaching team], especially for my mental health.
“It’s helped me loads and will help me get through the injury and this stage of my life. Being around the boys still will help my mental health that little bit more.
“I’ve heard people find it really tough when they finish sport and I was really worried about that and where my head might go.
“I’m so grateful to be able to stay around the club and the boys, already just from the few opportunities we’ve had together has been brilliant.”
Rawlings will be the perfect pivot between Carter and Fitches to deliver players back to the playing fold in the best fashion possible.
It will not just be centred on the first team either, with access for the colts and senior sections of the club.
The added benefit is of course that Rawlings has an ingrained knowledge of what each position entails, and will be able to assess rehab options with that in mind.
“It’s just another link of communication between Paul and Ben, it’s another stage of the rehab that we can focus on,” he says.
“I think player welfare is so big now, and people are so much more aware of it in clubs.
“It’s a big step for the club to bring the extra step in there, and that extra role to take care of the boys a little bit more.
“It’s definitely something that more clubs should be looking at, player welfare, to get players back on the pitch as quickly as possible, but also as safe as possible.
“I understand how each player works as well in terms of training aspects, and what actually is going to benefit them in terms of training styles. You can’t just use the same methods for each person, they are not just going to work for everyone. It will be good knowing each player quite well.”
It means that just as in the past few years, Rawlings will still have a vital part to play in Cambridge’s fortunes.