Scotland youngsters relishing opportunity in South Africa

The trio been awarded the John Macphail Scholarship & leave this Saturday to spend 5 months in South Africa
©David Gibson/Fotosport

Kristian Kay used to train closely with Dan Robson at Wasps - and now the 18-year-old scrum-half is set to learn from former Springboks number nine Neil de Kock as he sets off for South Africa with two other exciting young Scottish players.

Scottish Rugby Fosroc Academy players Kay, Jacob Henry and Thomas Jeffrey have been awarded the coveted John Macphail Rugby Scholarship.

They will leave this Saturday to spend five months immersed in South Africa’s renowned rugby culture at the high-performance training facility at Stellenbosch University.

The programme is funded by the Robertson Trust and is named after a former Scotland player.

Emerging players and coaches were previously sent to Canterbury in New Zealand for a 15-week programme, with Scottish Rugby changing to South Africa and extending the programme for the first-time last year.

The likes of John Barclay (the first recipient in 2005), Grant Gilchrist (2011), Jonny Gray (2012), Finn Russell (2013) and Adam Ashe (2014) have benefitted from the scholarship before - and Kay is out to make his mark when he lands in the southern hemisphere.

“I’m just really excited to get out there. It’s a five-month, intensive programme so it’s a great opportunity to improve personally,” the Scotland under-18 cap told TRU.

“Former South Africa scrum-half Neil de Kock is at the Academy as a specialist scrum-half coach, so I’m really looking forward to working with him

“I was with Wasps from the age of 13 until last summer and it was awesome because, as we got older, we got to mix with the pros and I was able to do one on one training with them which was really cool.

“Dan Robson is a scrum-half that I really look up to and the way he plays is very exciting.

“I played up to under-18 level at Wasps and then played for Saracens in one ‘A’ team game, but that didn’t come to anything.

“As a result, I moved up to be part of the Scottish Rugby Glasgow & West Academy last summer and I have been loving it.”

Kay’s rugby career began with Buckingham RFC before he earned a scholarship to Stowe School and joined the Wasps Academy.

With parents from Glasgow, he always knew that he was eligible to play for Scotland and first turned out for them at under-17 level.

He starred as Scotland under-18 defeated England, France and Ireland in the Six Nations Festival in Wales last year and just before Christmas, he earned his first two under-19 caps.

“I played the first four games of the season for [Tennent’s Premiership side] Glasgow Hawks and then I did something to the ligaments in my ankle so I was out for a spell,” Kay said of his 2018/19 season to date.

“When I recovered, I played two 40 minutes for Cartha Queen’s Park and then played for the under-19s against Wales and Australia.

“The Academy in Glasgow is really helping me improve as a rugby player. When I found out about this scholarship chance, the first thing I did was look at the names of previous recipients and it is really flattering to be added to that list.”

Winger Henry, 18, has already gone the extra mile to progress his fledgling career.

He upped sticks and moved from Inverness in the north of Scotland to Gala in the Borders last summer.

“I played for Ross Sutherland to start my rugby for about six years and then I played in the under-18s at Highland,” the Scotland under-16 and 17 cap explained.

“I then played a bit of seniors too at Highland, but with me being so far away, it was hard to get the Academy support I needed so I decided to move down to the Borders Academy.

“Now I live in Gala and play for Melrose, though it hasn’t been the easiest season since I moved down with two injuries.

“I got one injury just before moving - I tore my hamstring so that had me out for a while - and then after weeks out in my first game for Melrose Wasps, I planted my foot on the ground and twisted my knee - I was back to square one.”

Henry also missed out on national under-18 honours in early 2018 due to injury, so it is no surprise that he cannot wait to get going in South Africa.

The former Dingwall Academy pupil also wants to represent the north of Scotland with pride and added: “I’d love to be seen as one of the names from the Inverness area that do well in rugby at a high level.”

Loosehead prop Jeffrey, also 18, has spent the first half of 2018/19 learning from a former internationalist.

Having grown up playing for Peebles - and earning Scotland under-16, 17 and 18 caps whilst there - he moved to local rivals Jed-Forest last summer.

“Jed was a good fit for me because of the front-row coaches there,” he stated.

“Obviously, Kev Barrie is a great forwards coach while fellow coach Gavin Kerr has played for Scotland numerous times [earning 50 caps between 2003 and 2008] so he is really good.

“They attracted me to Jed, they are two old school coaches who can show you the basics and the tricks of the trade and being an 18-year-old prop, that is key.

“I have also tested myself against older props when I have played for Jed [in Tennent’s National League One] and I have learnt so much, it has been an eye opener.

“I enjoyed the start of the season and then got a couple of ankle injuries, but this trip to South Africa is like a fresh start.

“Being injured, it can be hard to get a positive mindset, especially when you have a recurring injury. However, I am back running now and I cannot wait to get to Stellenbosch.”

Scottish Rugby’s Technical Director Stephen Gemmell said: “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 Kristian, Jacob and Thomas to accelerate their development as part of the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy.”