Latest recipients of the John Macphail Rugby Scholarship announced

Jacob Henry of Melrose, Thomas Jeffrey of Jed-Forest and Kristian Kay of Glasgow Hawks are all heading off to Stellenbosch University in South Africa for five months

John Macphail scholarship
Jacob Henry, Thomas Jeffrey and Kristian Kay are heading off to Stellenbosch University in South Africa on Saturday on the John Macphail Scholarship. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

THE latest three recipients of the John Macphail Rugby Scholarship were announced at Murrayfield this morning, with Jacob Henry (Melrose), Thomas Jeffrey (Jed-Forest) and Kristian Kay (Glasgow Hawks) – all aged 18 – being handed the opportunity to spend five months operating in the high-performance training facility at Stellenbosch University. They fly out this weekend.

The scholarship programme is now in its 14th year, having been launched in 2005 when an 18-year-old John Barclay jetted off to New Zealand for a couple of months at the start of a senior career which would see him go on to win 71 caps for Scotland, with the most recent 14 as captain.

In total, eight previous recipients of the scholarship have achieved full international honours with Scotland so far, including Grant Gilchrist (2011), Jonny Gray (2012), Finn Russell (2013) and Adam Ashe (2014); while nine more have earned full-time professional contracts.


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The Macphail Scholarship was created in memory of ex-Scotland internationalist John Macphail (1949-1951). The programme, which is funded by the Robertson Trust, previously sent emerging players and coaches to Canterbury in New Zealand for a 15-week programme, before changing to South Africa and extending the stay for the first time last year.

Meet this year’s Macphail Scholarship recipients –

Thomas Jeffrey is a loose-head prop who came through the ranks at Peebles and played for Scotland at under-16 and Under-17 level, before being awarded a stage two FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy contract at the start of this season. He moved to Jed-Forest in order to get exposure to National One rugby, with the prospect of working with coaches Kevin Barrie and former Scotland prop Gavin Kerr a big draw towards Riverside Park.

A couple of ankle injuries, which had to be remedied through surgery, has restricted his game time to four matches for Jed 1st XV this season, but he is back running now and expects to be fit to play within three weeks of arriving in South Africa.

He said –

“I’m buzzing about it. I met one of the guys who went last year who’d made a video about what it was like and it looks like an amazing facility and opportunity. It’s still not really sunk in that I’ll be in South Africa next week but I’m really looking forward to getting out there and meeting new people in a new rugby environment.”

Thomas Jeffrey
Thomas Jeffrey moved from Peebles to Jed-Forest with the prospect of some specialist front-row coaching from Kevin Barrie and Gavin Kerr a big lure. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

Kristian Kay is a scrum-half who grew up in Buckinghamshire and attended the prestigious Stowe School as a boarder. Both his parents, however, are from Glasgow, and he was a member of the Scotland Under-18s squad which won the inaugural Six Nations Festival in Wales last April.

He was a member of the Wasps Academy set-up from age 13, and he also played a trial game for Saracens in their ‘A’ league fixture against Exeter at the tail-end of last season, before moving north to join the Glasgow and West Academy as a stage one member during the summer. He linked up with Glasgow Hawks and played the first four games of this Premiership campaign before being side-lined with damaged ankle ligaments. He returned to action with a couple of run-outs for Cartha QP and featured in the Scotland Under-19 team’s games against Wales and Australia before Christmas.

He said –

“I was really surprised when I was asked to go on the scholarship. It’s a really awesome opportunity that I wouldn’t have got otherwise.

“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.

“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.”

Kristian Kay
Kristian Kay grew up in Buckinghamshire but both his parents are Scottish. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

Jacob Henry is a winger who started out playing with Ross Sutherland before moving to Highland when he reached Under-18 level, picking up a few senior games for the Canal Park outfit in the tail-end of last season.

He moved south to join the Borders Academy at the start of this season so that he could be closer to Scotland’s rugby epicentre, taking a student residence in Gala and joining Melrose. However, a torn hamstring followed by a twisted knee means that he, like his travelling companions, is frustrated by a lack of recent game time but fully fresh and raring to go for the challenges which lie ahead over the next five months.

He said –

“It’s quite surreal really. I don’t think it’ll sink in until I’m there. I think it helps that I’ve lived away from home already as part of the academy. I’m really happy with how it’s all come about. I was honoured to be put forward for what’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a real privilege. It looks amazing.”

Jacob Henry
Jacob Henry started out at Ross Sutherland and graduated through Highland to Scottish champions Melrose. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

Scottish Rugby Technical Director, Stephen Gemmell, thanked The Robertson Trust and Macphail family for their continued support of Scottish Rugby.

“Since its inception in 2005 the partnership has allowed us to send some of our most promising young players to other parts of the world to develop in new environments, with different coaches, fresh challenges and at world-class facilities,” he said.

“This year we will again send Under-19 players to the world class Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in South Africa, where they will spend five months experiencing a different culture, undertaking an intense programme, training and playing alongside players from different countries, all as part of their own individual development plans.

“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 Jacob, Henry and Kristian to accelerate their development as part of the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy.”

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Mark Laing, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee of the Robertson Trust, added: “Jacob, Kristian and Thomas have exceptional potential and I’m in no doubt all three will prove to be worthy recipients of the scholarship.

“I, along with the Macphail family and all at The Robertson Trust, look forward to hearing about the players’ progress throughout their time in South Africa and beyond.

“Through the John Macphail Scholarship, The Robertson Trust has assisted in the development of some of Scotland’s brightest young rugby talent for over 13 years.

“We are proud of this legacy and believe the programme’s new setup, and all the experiences it will bring, will help to accelerate the development of even more professional and international players going forward.”

John Macphail Rugby Scholarship recipients –

2018-19: Thomas Jeffrey, Jacob Henry, Kristian Kay

2017-18: Angus Fraser, Andrew Jardine and Guy Kelly

2016-17: Patrick Kelly, Ross McCann, Mike Blair (coach) and Calum Forrester (coach)

2015-16: Callum Hunter-Hill, Ben Robbins, Ben Cairns (coach) and Duncan Hodge (coach)

2014-15: Adam Ashe, Ewan McQuillin, Don Caskie (coach) and Kenny Murray (coach)

2013-14: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Finn Russell, Shade Munro (coach) and Alex Duncan (coach)

2012-13: Jonny Gray, Gregor Hunter, Chris Paterson (coach) and Ben Fisher (coach)

2011-12: Grant Gilchrist, Harry Leonard, George Turner and Ian Monaghan (coach) 

2010-11: Finlay Gillies

2009-10: Lewis Niven

2008-09: Roddy Grant

2007-08: Kevin Bryce

2006-07: Graham Hogg

2005-16: John Barclay


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1027 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

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