REMEMBER Mark Robertson? The blond winger who came from Melrose, starred with the Borders as a fresh-faced pro, filled out his Bambi legs at
Edinburgh and grew into a promising threat in the Scotland ‘A’ jersey?
Things were looking good in October, 2010, when he last played rugby. But then the cruelty of sport struck a heavy blow. Just as Robertson had claimed a regular place in the Edinburgh side, had tucked away nine ‘A’ caps and was taking advice from the national coaches on what he had to do to make the step-up to the top level, a pelvic injury that had flared in his first season with Edinburgh returned with a vengeance.
The 26-year-old has spent the past 14 months in the Murrayfield treatment room, training alone in the gym or on the back pitches, when not flying to London, Belfast and the United States for expert opinion on pain that refused to subside. A double hernia operation cleared the hernia but did not remove the pain; tears in his abdomen were revealed and allowed to heal, but still the agony returned when he started rugby training.
Now he is hopeful that it has gone for good, and when everyone else is tucking into Christmas dinner he will be as excited as children ripping open presents as he joins London Scottish for a four-week spell that could provide a launch-pad back into rugby.
“I am very excited about it now,” he said. “It has been a pretty tough year, but now it’s about looking forward. I’m feeling good again and London Scottish have offered me a great opportunity to be part of their club for a month and get back into the game.
“I’m going down this week and will be available for the Boxing Day match with Moseley, and we’ll take it from there. The plan is then to return to Murrayfield and push for the Scotland sevens squad for the next rounds of the world series [in New Zealand and USA in February].
“But for now I’m just enjoying the excitement of training and being able to play again.”
Robertson does not pause when asked if he can recall the last game he played in: “It was on November 5 , against Treviso at home, and we won.” He came off with a knee injury which required an injection and was told he would be out of action for “two or three weeks; four at the worst”.
“I came back and started training, and went to Castres with the team as a travelling reserve [11 December], but I wasn’t needed and when I returned to training the next week I felt something in my pelvis. That was Tuesday, December 14.”
That was the day Robertson’s nightmare year began. His contract was up at the end of last season and with him no nearer recovering and no interest in renewal talks being shown by Edinburgh – in limbo after sacking Rob Moffat – his agent Rowen Shepherd put the feelers out. Northampton came back to the table, having offered the winger a contract two years previously, and there was interest from a handful of Championship clubs and French sides.
“That was promising,” he said, recalling the excitement he felt then. “So I worked harder through my treatment and rehab, but in April I tried to push on and get really fit again, and made it worse and it went completely.
“That was even more frustrating because I couldn’t go anywhere then. So, I took a step back and Rowen [Shepherd] arranged for me to go to America for a few weeks, to get more advice, some treatment and do some work experience, at a place called St Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis. That was good because there was actually a ‘lock-out’ [strike] in American sport so top NFL players and NBA basketball players were training there, and it was interesting to see what they do.
“I came back from that with things looking more positive and approached the Scotland sevens coaches and said if there was a chance of being involved there I’d be delighted to take it.”
Robertson acknowledged that the period between April and June had been among his lowest, his memories of playing for Edinburgh, scoring tries for Scotland ‘A’ against Tonga, Ireland and Georgia and emulating his father Keith in going on to play for Scotland taking on a sepia tint, as he feared the end of his rugby career.
“It was tough because that was me without a contract and pretty worried about what I was going to do. It hits you pretty quick when you go from the season I had beforehand, playing every week and just loving my rugby, thinking about pushing on to the next level, to suddenly being out and being like a forgotten man.
“When I came back from America I decided to do my Masters at Edinburgh University [sports strength and conditioning] and see about sevens, because I knew I could do my studies alongside that.
“Graham Shiel [Scotland sevens coach] was keen so that provided me with a new goal. I wanted to be playing right away and that didn’t happen, but rehab through the first half of the season has got me feeling fit and much better, and ready to play again.”
He is back in full training, yet neither he nor the medics know exactly what has cost him the past 14 months of his career. There has been no precise diagnosis of the injury, the pain coming from the notoriously complicated groin/abdomen junction of muscles and tendons and drawing different diagnoses from specialists across the UK and US.
“I don’t worry about that now,” he added. “It feels a lot better and so I’m looking forward to going to London Scottish and getting four weeks of rugby.
“I’ll still be travelling up and down for sevens training and uni studies, so it will be busy, but I just can’t wait to play rugby again. It has been a long time.
“I am keen to find a club for next season and my long-term goal is still to get a cap for Scotland. If I can get back to the fitness I had beforehand all I need is a bit more consistency in my performances. But first and foremost I just want to enjoy playing again.
“I have really enjoyed my time at Edinburgh. It is a great club, but I think the best thing for me now might be to move on and try something different, challenge myself somewhere else, whether that is in England or France, or wherever.
“I’m only 26 so I’ve got a good few years left in me yet. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m definitely looking forward to 2012 coming in.”