Young rising rugby star has knee surgery in bid to save his professional career

31 January 2019

Case study of Rhys Jones recovering from surgery following a cartilage tear to the knee.

While all eyes are on the Rugby Six Nations from this weekend, one young athlete will be watching the Welsh team intently as he recovers from a knee injury at his home in Maidenbower, Sussex.

Seventeen-year-old Rhys Jones is a rising star in the rugby world who played for Haywards Heath RFC, during which time he represented Sussex and the Welsh Exiles, thanks to his skills and his family connections with Wales. He is on the Rugby Union’s Young Rugby Ambassador Programme and is a coach for the Haywards Heath RFC under 15s.

And he has already acquired two sponsorships – GuardianPro and Brighton-based Callum Barney of CJB Strong, three times World Champion 75kg Powerlifter and one of the people responsible for maintaining Rhys’s rugby prop physique. It’s a huge achievement for a young man who didn’t start playing rugby until he was 11 years old and has now set his sights on playing professionally.

Last November, Rhys took part in the Welsh Exiles Super Six tournament - a selection process for the Welsh under 18s squad - but within his second game, disaster struck. Rhys slipped and twisted his right knee, tearing the cartilage on both sides. His parents, Wendy and Glen, watched in horror as he came limping out of the changing rooms only to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the tournament.

“There was a sharp pain at the beginning and then it became sore and uncomfortable to walk,” explained Rhys. “I couldn’t do any sport for weeks and felt like a caged animal and was really grumpy.”

A meniscus (cartilage) tear in the knee is a common sports injury, particularly among footballers and rugby players, and in Rhys’s case he needed surgery.

Luckily his family had private health insurance and, following an assessment at Crawley Hospital, they chose to see orthopaedic surgeon Mr Sandeep Chauhan at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in Horley. Rhys was also given an MRI scan, and three weeks later, on December 1, he had an arthroscopy and meniscectomy to remove a piece of the torn cartilage – a day procedure which takes around 15 minutes.

“The care at Spire Gatwick Park was spot on. I couldn’t fault it as they got me through so quickly. I have friends at college who have had similar injuries and they are still waiting for their operations,” said Rhys, who is in his first year at Hartpury in Gloucester, one of the UK’s leading sports colleges.

A key part of recovery from this type of injury is physiotherapy and Rhys had one-to-one sessions with Spire Gatwick Park’s physiotherapists to help build strength in his thigh to support the knee.

“I think the key to better recovery is to have good communication with your physio,” says Rhys. “It is important to be able to say to your physio “I am feeling this, when can I get back to that?”

Rhys also went back to training at CJB Strong to build up his weight and muscles around the knee - within seven weeks of his operation he was lifting 70 kilos.

Just after Christmas he played his first non-contact game for Hartpury on artificial grass and within a few weeks he was back at Haywards Heath RFC in Cuckfield, enjoying a non-contact friendly on grass in icy rain and temperatures of zero degrees. And he is aiming to get his first contact match in the bag by April before the rugby season draws to a close.

“I think that is long enough time for the injury to heal and time for physio to sort out any issues,” he says.

Rugby is the cornerstone of the Jones family. His dad Glen is a Director of Rugby at Collyers College in Horsham and a coach for both Haywards Heath and Sussex RFU. Rhys’s grandad is Mike Jones, who played high level rugby with the famous Neath RFC & Wales A in the 1960s. And Rhys’s younger brother Samuel is already showing potential in the Haywards Heath under 15s. Mum Wendy volunteers at the bar at Haywards Heath RFC so she can spend the weekends with her boys.

All the family, especially Rhys, believe his knee injury to be a temporary setback in his rugby career and are already hoping for a return trip to the Super Six tournament in Wales next November. 

“All elite levels of sport have their ups and downs,” says Rhys. “I want to be a professional rugby player and would love to go as high as I can go, but as long as I can continue to play rugby I will be happy.”

What the surgeon says:

Mr Sandeep Chauhan, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in Horley: “A meniscus tear is a common injury among young footballers and rugby players when the knee twists during play.  I see this type of injury every few weeks.  Patients will be walking within one week of their operation, cycling within two, jogging within three to five weeks, and back to normal within six to twelve weeks. They need to have physiotherapy twice a week for up to six weeks. I am fully confident Rhys will be back to doing what he’s been doing.”

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