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Graham Downes Development and Pathways to Excellence Funds Help Send Promising U.S. Player Damian Morley to Stellenbosch Academy of Sport

February 20, 2021

San Diego, CA (February 22, 2021) – With generous support from the Graham Downes Development Fund and the Pathways to Excellence Fund (both under the U.S. Rugby Foundation umbrella), U.S. U18s player Damian Morley will be spending the next three months at the world-renowned Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in Stellenbosch, South Africa.A native of New York, NY, Damian discovered rugby at the Lycee Francais in New York City while a student there and began playing for the U12 team at the French language school in middle school.

In pursuit of both his rugby and academic future, Damian transferred to Xavier High School. Excelling both on and off the field, Damian played in the 1st XV for the renowned rugby program at Xavier from the time he was 15, while also making the school’s honor roll throughout the same period. Damian also toured to Ontario and Ireland with the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy before being selected to the USA Rugby U18 team in 2019 – serving as a captain during the December 2019 NA4 series against the Canadian U18s.USA Rugby’s Gary Gold, Huw Bevan and Brendan Keane approached the U.S. Rugby Foundation to see if there might be some financial support within the Foundation to help make Damian’s dream a reality.

The Graham Downes Development Fund (GDDF), who have provided rugby scholarships to attend the Sharks Academy in Durban, South Africa for many promising young players, including U.S. Men’s Eagles Ben Pinkelman and Hanco Germishuys, thought it another opportunity to expand “Basher’s” legacy.

A representative for the GDDF said, “Damian appears to be an outstanding prospect and his bio suggests similar leadership skills and character to Ben Pinkelman, and it is an honor to have the Graham Downes name associated with him. We are continually looking to assist young players with the ultimate goal of expanding the game and improving the standard of rugby in the USA.”U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach, Gary Gold, provided this update: “I have been in touch with Ernst Joubert (Head of Stellenbosch Academy of Sport Rugby International Institute) who told me Damian has arrived safely and is settling in. I believe Damian has been appointed to work with Neil de Kock as his Scrumhalf mentor. Neil is an ex Springbok who played over 200 games with Saracens. He is a fantastic bloke who will have a significant impact in Damian’s life. Thanks again to all of you who worked so hard to make this happen. In these bizarre times this type of initiative is critical for the independent development of our next best young players.

”In reply to Gold’s update, Pathways to Excellence Chair and past U.S. Eagles captain, Ed Burlingham, stated, “Great news regarding Damian’s arrival and his mentoring assignment. What an incredible opportunity for this young man. I look forward to reading your updates as his SAS experience progresses. All of us in the U.S. Rugby Foundation hope that this is just the start of our relationship with you and the National Team as we work together to identify and develop future Eagles that can make a difference.”As Gary mentioned, Damian has only recently arrived at Stellenbosch but he took the time to send the above photo along with this note: “I just wanted to thank the U.S. Rugby Foundation, Graham Downes Development Fund and the Pathways Fund for your generosity.

Your contributions have made a huge difference in making this trip a reality and a success. I’ve just finished the first three days of training here and it is absolutely incredible. As a fellow fan of rugby I am in constant awe of the facilities and quality of training here. You will definitely appreciate the fact that we get to share training facilities with the BlitzBoks!! I’ve attached a picture for you to share around and I will be sure to keep you updated on everything. P.S. I’m in Heaven!”Stay tuned for more updates and photos from Damian’s Stellenbosch Experience.