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USRF is Offering the Nelson College Scholarship for a Second Year

September 18, 2023

The United States Rugby Foundation is pleased to announce its highly successful Nelson College Scholarship Program will be offered again in 2024. We will be selecting a highly qualified U.S. High School rugby player to attend Nelson College, a secondary/high school for boys located in Nelson, New Zealand, which conducts a unique, highly acclaimed rugby program.

The Foundation is seeking applications from well-rounded U.S. high school male rugby players with excellent basic rugby skills who are interested in spending the 2024 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, maturity, athletic ability, on-field rugby performance, and potential for growth, leadership, character, and maturity. The Foundation anticipates awarding one scholarship this year for 2024.

The goal of USRF’s Nelson College 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 located in Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island. Founded in 1856, Nelson College is New Zealand’s oldest 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 Curriculum

Nelson College is a highly acclaimed academic institution where students carry a full course workload. But what sets it apart - their point of difference - is their unique, even by New Zealand standards, Rugby Curriculum. 

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Of the nearly 1,000 students enrolled at Nelson College, 200 play rugby; and over 100 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. 

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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 2024 Scholarship

The scholarship for 2024, to be awarded by the end of 2023, is for a roughly 4-and-a-half-month program at Nelson College from early to mid-April, 2024 until mid to late August 2024 – a time frame coinciding with the start of 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. The player must have been born in 2006 or later.

The key characteristics the Nelson College coaching staff are looking for in the player are: “Is he mature, and coachable with a positive attitude? Does he have a strong work ethic? Is he resilient under pressure? These characteristics 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).

Apply Now

Completed Player Applications and the coaches’ letters must be submitted by December 1st, 2023

Applications will be reviewed by the US Rugby Foundation Scholarship Review Committee. The Foundation’s President will announce the scholarship award winner by the end of 2023.

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 Academics

The 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 Point

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Jonathan “Jono” Phillips is the Nelson College Director of Coaching and 1st XV Coach who has promoted and will facilitate this Scholarship. In Jono’s five Seasons as Head of Rugby at Nelson College, he coached the school’s 1st XV to two South Island championships, three Crusaders School titles, and four consecutive quadrangular victories in one of the most fruitful periods in the school’s 167-year history. 

Previously, Jono was the High-Performance Manager and Assistant Coach of Hurricanes Rugby from 2004 to 2012; and prior to that, was the Rugby Development Manager and High-Performance Coach of the Scottish Rugby Union from 1996 to 2004.

USA Rugby / USA Youth and High School Support

USA Rugby Men’s 15s GM & Head Coach Scott Lawrence expressed his support: “Well done on this USRF initiative.  The more we can get Americans gaining more diverse experiences and playing more games the brighter our future”; USA YHS Rugby President David Pool commented, “… a terrific opportunity for one of our elite young U.S. high school players … a fantastic rugby experience …”.

2023 Scholarship Recipients

Last year, in 2022, the selection committee received nineteen applications for the 2023 Scholarship. After the review process, the committee concluded that two deserving applicants stood out academically and athletically and both were awarded grants.

Max Doerfler

Max applied as a 16-year-old Junior at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, an academically demanding high school in Overland Park, KS, where he had compiled an excellent academic record. Doerfler had three years of experience playing rugby at St. Thomas and played on the high school’s football and soccer teams. St. Thomas Rugby finished 4th in the US in 2022. In the summer of 2022, Max played with the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy (EIRA) U16 and U17 teams on their Ireland Tour, where he excelled.

Oliver Kirk

Oliver applied as a 16-year-old Junior with an excellent academic record at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, a selective enrollment magnet high school in Chicago. Kirk started playing rugby as a 5-year-old for the old Chicago Wapiti Club, which eventually merged with the Chicago Lions Youth Club where he has been a back row standout and their starting No. 8. Kirk coached the Lions Rookie Rugby program for kids ages four through ten and played on his high school soccer and volleyball teams. In the summer of 2022, Oliver played with the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy U16 and U17 teams on their tour of Ireland.

Nelson College Head Rugby Coach Jono Phillips had this to say about these two young U.S. players after their time this year down under in New Zealand at Nelson College:

“Both Max and Oliver have been outstanding ambassadors for USA Rugby, their schools, and their families. 

Both are true students of the game, who now have not only a wide range of tools to assist with their own ambitions in the game but also the ability to help others grow their skill sets through the knowledge they have gained in the Nelson College program.

The progressions in their skill development, decision making, conditioning, and game management have seen significant growth and it has been fantastic to watch as both have developed the ability to play a multi-phase game with intensity, accuracy, and speed.”


Any questions an applicant, his family, school, or coach may have about this Nelson College opportunity – the application process, the school itself, the rugby program, the boarding arrangements, etc. – can be addressed by contacting any of the USRF committee members below.

Brian Vizard     (619) 233-0765

John Decker     (859) 539-5124

Sarah Kaler     (314) 602-7800

USRF Appreciation

These Nelson College Scholarship grants are made possible by the generous contributions of native New Zealanders David Hovey (Chicago), Ron Mayes (Bay Area), and Murray Sutton (Santa Fe), plus the contributions of USRF benefactors Hal Chase, Nolan Day, John Decker, Frank Dunlevy, Bill Fraumann, Ed Malmstrom, Andy Palmer, David Skidmore, Leland Sledge, Jay Waldron and Russ Warren. Many thanks for their support!