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Physiotherapy students support the Touch Rugby World Cup in Malaysia

13 June 2019

Cardiff University staff and students recently travelled to Malaysia to support five Welsh touch rugby teams at the Touch World Cup in Malaysia.

Physiotherapy lecturers from the School of Healthcare Sciences, Professor Nicola Phillips, Tim Sharp, Dr Liba Sheeran and Sian Knott supervised four physiotherapy students, Matty Ivin, Ayesha Garvey, Rhiannon Haynes and David Cooper during the trip.

Speaking to final year Physiotherapy student, Rhiannon Haynes, we found out about the event and as a student what this opportunity meant to her.

What made you choose physiotherapy at Cardiff?

It’s such a diverse career with so many opportunities, in a variety of sectors. I want to work in Sport and Cardiff was an obvious choice for me as it was rated number one for its physiotherapy provision when I applied. It also provided eight assessed practice placements, so you get a real variety of experience.

How did you hear about the Touch Rugby World Cup in Malaysia?

Cardiff University has given me the opportunity to volunteer in sports events throughout my time here such as the Urdd 7s, Gemau Cymru and the half-marathon. I’ve had the chance to complete my Level 4 sports massage qualification, which has given me the opportunity to work with Cardiff Blues Rugby Team and Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey Team. I was also lucky enough to have a placement with Scarlets Rugby as part of my course.

As part of volunteering I was aware that some of the lecturers had links with the Wales Touch Association and had previously used events like these as opportunities to introduce students with an interest and commitment to working in sport to supporting squads through a tournament.

It was mentioned during our second year that there might be an opportunity for our cohort to get involved in the same scheme. Later that year, 4 students were able to go to the European Touch Championships in Nottingham. Unfortunately I was unable to apply due to the type of placement I was on at the time, so when the opportunity arose to apply for the World Cup in Malaysia I submitted my application, which involved demonstrating a commitment to working in sport and what I hoped I would be able to give and get from the opportunity.

What was involved in the event?

The squads are all self-funded, so they don’t necessarily train together regularly, but in the build up to the tournament, there were several weekend training sessions which we attended to find out about current and recent injuries of the competitors. This helped start the planning for some of the equipment we would need to take with us to make sure that we would be prepared to manage these.

Once we were in Kuala Lumpur, we had a couple of days to get our bearings, and to complete recces of the competition and training venues. The squads arrived towards the end of the first week, some of them holding training sessions and practice matches and by attending these we started to develop plans for managing the heat and supporting the players during games.

A typical day would require us to arrive at the venue around an hour before the first matches were due to start, often by about 7am. We set up the physio area of the tent, emptied and refilled ice baths and reassessed any injuries which had occurred the previous day. This was in addition to the soft tissue work and taping which players required before their matches.  A common feature of touch rugby is diving for the line to avoid being tagged before scoring, which sometimes resulted in grazes caused by the hard ground, so these all needed dressing to avoid infection and further damage.

During matches we would be involved in providing and refreshing flannels, monitoring players and supporting the physios when required. There were a couple of incidents of injury, but the main consideration was for the players being affected by the heat; a number had to be taken to the medical tent for assessment and rehydration, with a couple temporarily admitted to hospital for further monitoring and intervention.

Each night, the tent had to be packed down to make sure our equipment remained secure, so we were often the last people to leave the venue having also been the first to arrive, with matches often running until about 5.30pm.

What was the most exciting part?

I genuinely enjoyed the whole experience and getting to shadow such experienced physiotherapists in an area of the profession in which I aspire to work was invaluable. The squads were extremely welcoming and made it easy for us as students to just get stuck in; I was grateful to them for that.

The thing which draws me toward working in sport is the fact that you have to be responsive to situations which you have no control over no matter how well the players are physically prepared so you have to be able to think on your feet and clinically reason in order to appropriately assess an injury.

In an environment such as a World Cup, players were desperate to be involved, so getting these decisions correct under pressure could be critical in making sure they could continue to participate effectively or were helped to understand that they were too injured to continue. For example, what had seemed like a calf tear which may have threatened one player’s involvement was managed so carefully that they were able to re-join the team shortly after the start of the competition.

What did you learn?

I think I learned a significant amount, both as a physiotherapist and personally.

In terms of physiotherapy, it taught me that even with a significant amount of experience behind you and prior planning based upon this experience, there are always things which catch you by surprise. It’s so important to take time to find a way to reflect and learn from these new occurrences, building them into your experience bank for next time, but also recognising that it is ok to not know everything.  Getting to observe the qualified physiotherapists assessing and determining treatments so quickly drawing on their years of experience was also so valuable.

Personally, I learned how I can be quite hard on myself, possibly because I am so focussed on working in sport, it’s not expected that I know everything, and I won’t always get things right, but recognising where I do have knowledge I can bring to a situation, or knowing where I can find the answer is crucial.

Do you have any advice for other students considering the same thing?

If this opportunity arises again, then I would encourage students with a genuine interest in working in sport to apply. I don’t think it is a lifestyle that will suit all who think they want to work in sport, and this was a great way to find out the hidden truths about what a such career will involve. For me, it has served to reinforce that this is the environment I want to continue learning in and working towards.

I think I can safely say on behalf of myself and the other students involved, that we feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to apply for an experience such as this, and to have staff at the university who recognise the importance of sharing such experiences with students.

We’re fortunate at Cardiff to have access to funding sources, such as Global Opportunities who made so much of this trip possible, and I would certainly encourage students to look at avenues of funding to support similar experiences.

If you’re interested in finding out about more of our international opportunities with the School of Healthcare Sciences, you can contact our International mobility team on

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