Two Borders rugby players are among a trio of Scotland’s brightest prospects, who are about to embark on a life-changing rugby experience in South Africa as part of a prestigious scholarship award.
Fosroc Academy players Jacob Henry (18, Melrose), Thomas Jeffrey (18, Jed Forest) and Kristian Kay (18, Glasgow Hawks) have been awarded the coveted John Macphail Rugby Scholarship for 2018 and leave this Saturday (January 12) to spend five months immersed in South Africa’s renowned rugby culture at the high-performance training facility at Stellenbosch University.
The programme – funded by the Robertson Trust and now in its 14th year – previously sent emerging players and coaches to Canterbury in New Zealand for a 15-week programme, changing to South Africa and extending the stay for the first time last year.
The elongated opportunity is designed to deepen the still relatively new relationship and enable players to benefit from a longer period of time, while keeping aligned to the northern hemisphere season.
Previous recipients of this unique rugby opportunity include Scotland captain John Barclay (the first recipient in 2005), Grant Gilchrist (2011), Jonny Gray (2012), Finn Russell (2013) and Adam Ashe (2014).
Thomas Jeffrey came through the ranks at Peebles, representing Scotland at U16, U17 and U18, before moving to Riverside Park at the start of the season.
He said: “I’m buzzing about it. I met one of the guys who went last year who’d made a video about what it was like and it looks like an amazing facility and opportunity.
“It’s still not really sunk in that I’ll be in South Africa next week but I’m really looking forward to getting out there and meeting new people in a new rugby environment.”
Jacob Henry, who represented Scotland U16 and U17 before injury ruled him out of the U18 side, started his rugby in the Scottish Highlands, with Ross Sutherland, before moving to Highland RFC for his final year of U18 rugby.
He then secured a spot in the Borders & East Lothian Academy, moving to Galashiels to stay in residence at Heriot Watt University and ply his trade at Melrose.
He said: “It’s quite surreal really. I don’t think it’ll sink in until I’m there. I think it helps that I’ve lived away from home already as part of the academy.
“I’m really happy with how it’s all come about. I was honoured to be put forward for what’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a real privilege. It looks amazing.”
The Macphail Scholarship was established in 2005, as a partnership between the Robertson Trust and Scottish Rugby.
Created in memory of ex-Scotland internationalist John Macphail (1949-51), the scholarship was developed for talented young players but has also supported coaches, including Iain Monaghan and Chris Paterson.
Scottish Rugby’s technical director, Stephen Gemmell, added: “Thanks again to the Robertson Trust and Macphail family for their continued support of Scottish Rugby.
“Since its inception in 2005, the partnership has allowed us to send some of our most promising young players to other parts of the world to develop in new environments, with different coaches, fresh challenges and at world-class facilities.
“This year, we will again send U19 players to the world class Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in South Africa, where they will spend five months experiencing a different culture, undertaking an intense programme, training and playing alongside players from different countries, all as part of their own individual development plans.
“The scholarship has played an important role in a number of our current professional and international players’ careers and will, I’m sure, provide a launch pad for Jacob, Henry and Kristian to accelerate their development as part of the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy.”
Mark Laing, chairman of the Scholarship Committee of the Robertson Trust, said: “Jacob, Kristian and Thomas have exceptional potential and I’m in no doubt all three will prove to be worthy recipients of the scholarship.
“I, along with the Macphail family and all at the Robertson Trust, look forward to hearing about the players’ progress throughout their time in South Africa and beyond.
“Through the John Macphail Scholarship, the Robertson Trust has assisted in the development of some of Scotland’s brightest young rugby talent for over 13 years.
“We are proud of this legacy and believe the programme’s new setup, and all the experiences it will bring, will help to accelerate the development of even more professional and international players going forward.”