‘I feel blessed’: Former Springbok physio on her exciting new job at football club PSG

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Dr Tanushree Pillay landed her dream job at soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Dr Tanushree Pillay landed her dream job at soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. (PHOTO: Supplied)

This is it, she thought. Years of hard work had paid off and she was the Springboks’ team physiotherapist, travelling the world and doing what she loved.

The gees was with Tanushree Pillay when captain Siya Kolisi joyfully hoisted the Rugby World Cup when the team won in Japan in 2019 and she thought she’d reached the pinnacle of her career.

Not in her wildest dreams did Tanushree, who grew up in Asherville in Durban, imagine her next job would be at mega football club Paris Saint Germain (PSG), which boasts the likes of superstars Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in its squad.

Joining PSG’s team of physiotherapists is an accomplishment of which she’s immensely proud, she says.

“It’s been a revelation, knowing what I’m able to achieve in life,” she tells us from her home in Versailles, France, which she shares with her husband and baby boy.

“And now obviously when you see the likes of Messi signing and so many other big names at the club, you realise you’re working in an environment where the potential is exponential.

“I feel blessed to have had a new job after the Springboks and to be in the position where I can have some consistency to build a new chapter. I look forward to what the future brings.”

Tanushree spent four years with the Boks where she worked with rugby stars, including Cheslin Kolbe and Siya Kolisi. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Tanushree spent four years with Rassie Erasmus’ World Cup-winning Bok team and says she’ll hold those memories close to her heart.

“I think the most special thing for me was when we won the World Cup. I was in the physio room with the players every day, spending that time with them and watching our story blossom into the RWC win.”

READ MORE | Back together again: how Springbok player Faf de Klerk and girlfriend Miné found their way back to each other

And it was those memories that made her decision to join PSG a rather difficult one, Tanushree admits.

“Leaving is tough because you have to leave stuff you love; you leave things you’re comfortable with and you leave things you’ve grown up with.

“But then there’s an opportunity of a new beginning and that’s always exciting. And I’m somebody who loves opportunity.”

Tanushree’s interest in physiotherapy began in her matric year when she was a job-shadow at the rehabilitation department of the Aryan Benevolent Home, which provides care for the aged and disabled as well as orphaned and vulnerable children.

From there she began to get interested in sports physiotherapy and play a role in helping someone’s dream come true.

“I also realised quickly that this was a profession that’s transferrable around the world and that if I did want to have the experience of working internationally one day, it was going to be doable,” she says.

'I left Japan, with not only a World Cup medal but with a World Cup baby on the way!'
- Tanushree Pillay

When she was 17, she moved to Cape Town and studied for a BSc in physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape. Her career took off shortly after when she joined SA Rugby’s women’s team.

“Starting my career with women’s rugby gave me another exposure into women of different cultural backgrounds.”

Tanushree went on to become a physio for the women’s Sevens team before SA Rugby called in 2016 and invited her to join the organisation.

“I worked my way up in SA Rugby and after Heyneke Meyer had finished his tenure as Bok coach, Allister Coetzee was appointed and I was asked if I would like to join the Springbok rugby side,” she says.

It was during Rassie’s tenure that she met her husband, Gilles Mége, who works at the French Rugby Federation.

“We had a lot in common and I think the reason our relationship works is because he understood that I needed to be a strong woman, that I wasn’t going to be home a lot, and he understood the demands of the rugby environment.

“I appreciate the fact we share so much joy when we watch a rugby game together. I am truly grateful I have a husband who supports me in my career, who lets me pursue my dreams and who’s so willing to also do the ‘mom work’ for our little boy.”

READ MORE | ‘I hope I’m in the setup for many years to come’: Aphelele Fassi on his dream debut for the Springboks

Tanushree brought Gilles to the 2019 Rugby World Cup – an experience they won’t forget.

“I left Japan, with not only a World Cup medal but with a World Cup baby on the way! When I look back at pictures of me jumping up and down on the podium with Siya lifting the trophy, I always look at my son, Etienne, who’s 15 months old now, and I’m so proud to think that he was part of it.”

Tanushree still misses the Bok environment.

“I miss our team dinners and being together. I miss the biltong snacks after training and I miss just having a good laugh around the braai with the players when we had a day off.”

But nothing lasts forever.

She landed the job with PSG after attending the club’s medical summit to hear how things are done at this level of sport.

“I just left my card and I said if there’s ever a position available, I’d really be interested, and left it at that.”

Then, towards the end of June, Tanushree received the call that would change her life.

“I was officially contacted by PSG and they said, ‘We’d really like to have you on board’, so I signed up.”

Tanushree with her parents, Sundru and Rani Pillay, husband Gilles Mége and their son Etienne. The couple now live in France. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Her first few months with the club have been an absolute blast. “Working with top international players has been surreal,” she says.

“It’s been an amazing experience in that I’ve joined a very diverse and global club. They’re ambitious with how they want to grow their staff and I’ve felt very welcomed. I’ve been so reassured.

“I speak French. I know I make so many mistakes [with the language], but the players are so kind and they always say they love to speak to me in English.”

A typical day is much like working with any other professional sports team, she says. “It involves reviewing injuries, strapping, warm-up massages and getting players ready for training. We usually attend to admin and then long-term rehab of injured players.

“I don’t consider star appeal. I think it’s about recognising the person behind the jersey. They are fathers and husbands; they belong to families. To me it’s about offering the best advice and doing the best I can for them.”

She won’t be drawn into specifics about the star footballers she works with, explaining the club has strict rules about talking about players.

Tanushree is also the only woman in the club’s medical team. “To thrive as a woman in a male-dominated sport, you really have to have confidence in yourself and believe you’re as good and as capable as the man standing next to you,” she says.

She hopes her story will motivate young physios to chase their dreams.

“I always say when you put the energy out there, you think something might be impossible but then it happens.

“Here I am, a girl who grew up in Asherville, living in Versailles, and working for PSG.”

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