She is the rose among the thorns – the only woman in the Investec Stormers management operating in an overwhelmingly male domain, but proving herself to be a vital player behind the scenes in her role as team physiotherapist.
Rugby fans in South Africa will recognise Helen Millson immediately. She is the blond woman patrolling the touchline whenever the Investec Stormers and Western Province are in action. She is also the first onto the field when a player goes down. Millson spoke to us about her job, her journey to Newlands and how she ended up being dubbed ‘Tannie Poppie’.
Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOB IN THE TEAM AND HOW YOU CAME TO BE A PART OF THE SET-UP AT NEWLANDS?
A: Prevention of injuries, keeping the guys fit and treating injuries is the main focus of my work. I came to Investec WP in 2001 from Port Elizabeth after accepting an offer from coach Gert (Smal). I have just finished a master’s degree (MPhil) under Tim Noakes. As a physiotherapist, I went to two Commonwealth Games, two All Africa Games and three world surf lifesaving championships. I also worked with the Eastern Province cricket team and SA woman’s hockey and I was chosen to be the physio for the Springbok team in 1992.
Q: AND YOUR JOB ON THE FIELD?
A: The minute a player goes down, I have to assess the situation. I tend to watch bad tackles closely and take note of the way a player goes down to assess the mechanics of a situation. Then if a player is injured, I have to assess his condition. The team doctor will come on to examine players when bigger decisions have to be made, such as concussions.
Q: YOU CERTAINLY GIVE OFF A LOT OF NERVOUS ENERGY ON THE SIDE OF THE FIELD, WEARING YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE AND LEAVING NO DOUBT AS TO WHERE YOUR ALLEGIENCE LIES.
A: That is because I know the effort that has gone on behind the scenes and how badly we want to win and do well. ‘Anxious’ is too mild a word to describe my emotions about the game. ‘Passion’ is more appropriate.
Q: WHO IN THE TEAM TAGGED YOU WITH THE ‘TANNIE POPPIE’ NICKNAME THEN?
A: The Afrikaans players in the team always called me ‘tannie’ and I would reply that I was not a ‘tannie’. So (former Stormers hooker) Charl Marais said: ‘Okay then, you can be ‘Tannie Poppie’.
Q: WAS IT AWKWARD INITIALLY AS A WOMAN COMING INTO SUCH AN OVERWHELMINGLY MALE-DOMINATED ARENA?
A: Not awkward, but I had to prove myself. Gert (Smal) and Carel (du Plessis) are such fantastic coaches who have made me feel accepted, and (fitness and conditioning coach) Greg (Hechter) and I get on so well. The team comprises such awesome people that it is impossible not to love my job.
The above article was published in Don’t Blink – the official Investec Stormers Match Magazine (Investec Stormers vs Waratahs). Next time you visit Newlands, don’t forget to purchase this quality magazine!