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The US Rugby Foundation Announces High School Rugby Scholarship Program

July 7, 2022

The US Rugby Foundation is pleased to announce its first high school rugby scholarship to attend Nelson College, a secondary/high school for boys located in Nelson City, New Zealand with a unique, highly acclaimed rugby program.

The Foundation is seeking applications from well-rounded U.S. high school boys with excellent basic rugby skills who are interested in spending the ‘23 summer term attending high school in New Zealand and playing high level rugby in an immersive setting. Our selection process involves gathering recommendations from coaches around the country and obtaining information about the player’s academic standing, athletic ability, on-field rugby performance and potential for growth, leadership, character, and maturity. The Foundation anticipates awarding one scholarship this year, but fully intends to expand the program – including the offering of a high school immersion option for girls – in the years ahead. The goal of the USRF High School Rugby Scholarship Program is to advance the player’s personal development, culturally and academically, while also giving them the opportunity to become better rugby players and use their experience in New Zealand to influence and help elevate the play of their high school teammates when they return.

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Nelson College

Nelson College is an all-boys boarding school in Nelson City on the Northern shore of New Zealand’s South Island. Founded in 1856, Nelson College is the oldest state secondary school and the school where rugby in New Zealand was started. Located on the shores of Tasman Bay, Nelson is a small city with a vibrant and diverse culture. Known as the sunshine “capital” of New Zealand, the area is blessed with stunning natural landscapes.

Rugby CurriculumNelson College is a highly acclaimed academic institution where students carry a full six-course workload. But what sets it apart is its unique, even by New Zealand standards, Rugby Curriculum. Of the 960 students enrolled at Nelson College, 200 play rugby; and 110 of these – “pathways players” – participate in a formal Rugby Curriculum where rugby technique classes are run daily for four different age groups from U-14 to U-17. Rugby classes are based around the following six key pillars of player development: Technical; Tactical; Strength and Conditioning; Nutrition; Mental Skills; and Personal Development.

A perennial rugby powerhouse, the Nelson Rugby Program has developed five All-Blacks over the last ten years. Fifteen current NZ Super Rugby players and thirty current National Provincial Championship (NPC) players are graduates of Nelson College. The ScholarshipThe initial scholarship, to be awarded in the Fall of 2022, is for a half-year program at Nelson College from May 2023 through October 2023 – a time frame coinciding with the start of the Nelson College rugby training and running through the end of the Nelson College rugby season.

What’s Included?

The scholarship will cover the costs of attending Nelson College, including tuition; boarding either at the school or in a homestay; travel and medical insurance; uniforms; extracurricular activities; and NZ government and administrative fees. Airfare to and from New Zealand is also included.

Who Can Apply?

We are accepting applications from U.S. high school male rugby players who are in good standing with their rugby team and their school and whose high school graduation class is scheduled to graduate in the Spring of 2024 or later. (Players cannot be older than 17 to be eligible to play on the U17 team during the 2023 rugby season. To be clear, the applicant’s birth date must be 2006 or later.)

The key characteristics the Nelson College coaching staff are looking for in the player are: “Is he coachable with a positive attitude? Does he have a strong work ethic? Is he resilient under pressure? These would set him up well for his time in Nelson.”

Application Process

A link to the Player Application is provided below. The Application must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from the player’s rugby coach(s).Completed Player Applications and the coaches’ letters must be submitted by October 28, 2022. Applications will be reviewed by the US Rugby Foundation High School Scholarship Review Committee. The Foundation’s President will announce the scholarship award winner in November 2022.

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Interface with Nelson College

Once our scholarship recipient is selected and admitted, the school’s International Department will liaise with him and his family about all education, boarding, passport, visas, etc. matters. The Rugby Department will look after the rugby side of his support. While at the school, the student will meet regularly with both groups for progress checkups. Nelson College AcademicsThe student will have a normal high school course workload (core subjects and electives), in addition to the rugby curriculum. Nelson College will work with the candidate’s U.S. high school regarding academic synchronization and the transfer of academic credits to ensure no loss of academic standing.

Nelson College Contact PointJonathan “Jono” Phillips is the Nelson College Director of Coaching and 1st XV Coach who has promoted and will facilitate this Scholarship. In Jono’s first three years as Head of Rugby at Nelson College he coached the school’s 1st XV to two South Island championships, two Crusaders School titles and three consecutive quadrangular victories in one of the most fruitful periods in the school’s 165-year history. Previously, Jono was the High-Performance Manager and Assistant Coach of Hurricanes Rugby from 2004 to 2012; and prior to that, was Rugby Development Manager and High-Performance Coach of the Scottish Rugby Union from 1996 to 2004.

USAR / YHS Program SupportUSAR CEO Ross Young expressed his support for this initiative “It is great to see this take shape, giving one of our young hopefuls the opportunity to experience an immersive rugby atmosphere and a unique culture all together”. USA Youth & High School Rugby President David Pool commented “Having played high school rugby in New Zealand I am excited to see a development opportunity for one of our promising young U.S. high school players to attend one of the top New Zealand High School programs … a fantastic rugby experience.”

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Any questions an applicant, his family, or coach may have about this Nelson College opportunity – the application process, the school itself, the rugby program, the boarding arrangements, etc. – can be quickly addressed by contacting any of the USRF committee members below. If needed, a direct call or email exchange with Jono Phillips in New Zealand will be arranged.

Brian Vizard | (619) 743-6343 |

John Decker | (859) 539 5124 |

Sarah Kaler | (314) 602-7800 |

USRF Appreciation

This grant is being made possible by the timely and generous contributions of native New Zealanders David Hovey (Chicago), Ron Mayes (Bay Area) and Murray Sutton (Santa Fe), plus the contributions of long time USRF benefactors Hal Chase, John Decker, Frank Dunlevy, Bill Fraumann and David Skidmore. Many thanks for their support!