Macphail rugby award: A tall order, but scholarship puts Gray on road to emulating brother

LOCK Jonny Gray and stand-off Gregor Hunter have been named as the recipients of this season’s John Macphail Scholarship – the annual award which commemorates the former Scotland hooker and is given to some of the brightest young talents in the game.

The two will spend 18 weeks in Christchurch, New Zealand, playing for local clubs and benefiting from the coaching of Canterbury’s high-performance unit. They will be joined for five weeks of their stay by Ben Fisher, the Scotland Under-16 assistant coach, who has been identified as one of the most promising individuals at his level of the game.

Gray and Hunter have a high standard to live up to. The award, now in its eighth year, was first given to John Barclay, now a regular member of the Scotland back row, while Edinburgh flanker Roddy Grant was the recipient in 2008.

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For Gray, younger brother of Scotland lock Richie, the scholarship is the second piece of good news in as many weeks, coming hot on the heels of his signing a two-year elite development contract with Glasgow. “It’s a massive honour to be offered these two development opportunities at the same time,” the Hamilton forward said yesterday. “I’m very grateful to be given the chance to take my rugby forward.

“I can’t wait to get out to New Zealand and make the most of the visit, and to experience Southern Hemisphere rugby before joining up with the Warriors and continuing my development.

“It was a complete surprise,” Gray continued when asked how he heard of the award. “I was in the under-20s training camp, and a few days into the Under-20s Six Nations the opportunity came up. It was one I couldn’t turn down. There are some targets we have going over there, and some goal-setting. The main one for me is the style and the pace of the game they play over there. That’s one thing I’m looking to improve on. I’m not the fastest around, so it’s something I want to take on.

“I want to come back a stronger person as well. Rugby-wise, the aim is to improve all round.”

Twenty-year-old Hunter, who made his name as a Gala player before joining Edinburgh, has already represented Scotland at age-group level. “This is a really great opportunity for me and I’m looking to make the most of the trip,” he said. “Rugby is such a massive part of life in New Zealand and I’m determined to grasp this chance.”

John Macphail, who was capped against England in 1949 and South Africa in 1951, died in 2004. He was chief executive then chairman of the Edrington Group, a private company which is owned by the Robertson Trust, who administer the memorial award through their scholarship trust.

Kenneth Ferguson, the director of the Robertson Scholarship Trust, was joined at yesterday’s announcement of the 2012 recipients by members of the Macphail family. “We’re delighted that we can try and support Scottish rugby, and our money is aimed at the long-term development of the game in this country,” he said.

“We’re not looking for short-term fixes or gains. We want to make a long-term difference.

“Once again, we very much look forward to seeing the all-round development the time in New Zealand will give these young players. We are also looking forward to seeing how Ben’s coaching skills develop and in turn help the game in Scotland. “Along with the Trustees, the Macphail family continue to take a close, personal interest in the development of each player and coach both while they are in Christchurch and after their return.”

Graham Lowe, the Scottish Rugby Union’s director of performance rugby, said he looked forward to the two players and the coach benefiting from the highest possible level of instruction. “Jonny and Gregor are quality young talents who have applied themselves well in rugby and in the development opportunities they have been given so far,” he said.

“They are two bright players who will hopefully have a long future in the game, and who will make the most of the scholarship and their time in New Zealand. The level of support they will receive from the Canterbury RFU is superb.

“This is also an opportunity for Ben to add to his coaching experience and improve his talent. My thanks go to the Robertson Scholarship Trust for their support again this year in helping us boost the development of our best young rugby players in Scotland.”

Among those sharing their expertise will be three former All Blacks with Scottish connections: Todd Blackadder, the former New Zealand captain and Edinburgh player and head coach; Dave Hewett, who also played for Edinburgh; and Daryl Gibson, the one-time Glasgow Warriors centre who is now an assistant coach with the Canterbury.

2005: John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)

2006: Graham Hogg (Scotland Sevens)

2007: Kevin Bryce (Stirling County)

2008: Roddy Grant (Scotland Sevens)

2009: Lewis Niven (Edinburgh Accies)

2010: Finlay Gillies (Heriot’s)

2011: Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh) Harry Leonard (Edinburgh)

George Turner (Stewart’s-Melville)

Coach, Ian Monaghan (Glasgow Warriors)

2012: Jonny Gray (Hamilton), Gregor Hunter (Edinburgh) Coach, Ben Fisher (Scotland Under-16s)