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US Rugby Foundation Announces 2023 Nelson College Scholarship Recipients

December 19, 2022

Brian Vizard, US Rugby Foundation President, is pleased to announce today that there will be not one, but two recipients of 2023 Nelson College (NZ) Scholarships.

The goal of the Foundation’s High School Rugby Scholarship Program is to advance the personal, cultural, and academic development of the scholar athletes 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. The Selection Committee received nineteen applications and after the review process concluded that two applicants stood out academically and athletically from the others. Fortunately, key Nelson College Scholarship benefactors stepped up with donations to enable the Foundation to expand this opportunity to include both players.

Congratulations Grant Recipients!

Max Doerfler – Max is a 16-year-old Junior at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, an academically demanding high school in Overland Park, KS. A straight-A student, Max started playing rugby at St. Thomas three years ago and also plays on the high school football and soccer teams. St. Thomas rugby finished 4th in the US this past year. In the summer of 2022 Max played with the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy (EIRA) U16 and U17 teams on their Ireland Tour. Goff Rugby Report wrote: “On the field, 6-2 lock Max Doerfler of St. Thomas Aquinas shone for the U16s. A tough, hardworking, and consistent presence at second row, he showed leadership skills as well in what was a tough game for the tourists.”  

Oliver Kirk – Oliver is a 16-year-old Junior at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, a selective enrollment magnet high school, in Chicago. A straight-A student, Oliver started playing rugby as a 5-year-old for the old Chicago Wapiti Club. They eventually merged with the Chicago Lions Youth Club where he is a back row standout and their starting #8. Oliver coaches the Lions “Rookie Rugby” program for kids ages four through ten. Oliver also plays on his high school soccer and volleyball teams. In the summer of 2022 Oliver played with the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy U16 & U17 teams on their Ireland Tour.

Nelson College

Nelson College, a New Zealand high school, 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.

The 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 U14 to U17. Rugby classes are based around the following six key pillars of player development: Technical; Tactical; Strength and Conditioning; Nutrition; Mental Skills; and Personal Development.

The 1st XV Rugby TeamThe Nelson College 1st XV Rugby Team completed a very successful season in August by winning the Quadrangular Rugby Tournament, the oldest High School competition in the Southern Hemisphere.

View the Final vs. St. Bebe’s College

The team also won the Crusaders First XV Tournament Championship placing seven players on the Crusaders’ Regional High School Team. Four players went on to New Zealand National Team honors (most ever for the school).

A perennial rugby powerhouse, the Nelson Rugby Program has developed five All-Blacks over the last ten years – David Havili, Leicester Faianganuku, Quinton Strange, Mitchell Drummond and Ethan Blackadder. Fifteen current NZ Super Rugby players and thirty current National Provincial Championship (NPC) players are graduates of Nelson College.

Jonathan “Jono” Phillips – 1st XV and 2nd XV Rugby Coach

Jonathan “Jono” Phillips, architect of the Nelson College Rugby Curriculum, is the Nelson College Director of Coaching and 1st XV and 2nd XV Coach who has promoted and will facilitate these Scholarships. In Jono’s first four years as Head of Rugby at Nelson College he coached the school’s 1st XV to three South Island championships, three Crusaders School titles and four 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 (Wellington, NZ) 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.

Jono was a member of the Selection Committee for the Foundation’s Nelson College Scholarship and upon the conclusion of the selection process added these words of perspective:“It is a great privilege for Nelson College to partner with the U.S. Rugby Foundation on this project. We have a long and proud history of developing the game and players here in New Zealand. Having the opportunity to work with the Foundation and sharing the rugby pathway we have developed at the school with aspiring American rugby players is something we are very much looking forward to. Many congratulations to Max and Oliver on their selection for the scholarships.”

USA Rugby Appreciation – Foundation’s High School Support

Brendan Keane, USA Rugby Men’s High Performance Pathways Manager and Coach, and a member of the Scholarship Selection Committee noted:“Congratulations Max and Oliver! And kudos to U.S. Rugby Foundation and Nelson College for your successful collaboration on this project! It is most encouraging to see that two of our promising young high school players will be able to take part in the prestigious Nelson College Program and its unique Rugby Curriculum. The long-term positive impact this tremendous rugby experience will have for these young players’ rugby skills and rugby IQ will be unquantifiable.”

Foundation Appreciation – Nelson College Donor Support This grant is made possible by the timely and generous contributions of the Foundation’s “Friends of Nelson College” including native New Zealanders David Hovey (Chicago), Ron Mayes (Bay Area) and Murray Sutton (Santa Fe).

Join the “Friends of Nelson College” by contributing to support future scholarships to Nelson College. Send your tax-exempt donation noting “Nelson College” on the For: line to:

Brian Vizard, USRF President; 404 Euclid Avenue, Suite 302; San Diego, CA 92114


Make a donation and select “Nelson College Scholarship” as the purpose.

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