Top Scots prospects earn New Zealand scholarship

TWO of Scotland’s hottest young rugby prospects have already begun their route to the top in this country – and now they will spend the next four months in New Zealand learning more about their game on and off the pitch.

Callum Hunter-Hill, left, and Ben Robbins will be away for four months. Picture: SNS

Eighteen-year-old international age-grade caps Ben Robbins and Callum Hunter-Hill, a winger and a second-row respectively, have been chosen as the recipients of the John Macphail Scholarship for 2015.

On Saturday night the duo will begin the long-haul trip to Christchurch and once they land and acclimatise they will be playing for local clubs in the area and will receive specialist coaching from the Canterbury RFU.

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Now in its 11th year, the scholarship was set up in the memory of former Scotland hooker John Macphail who died in 2004.

Since 2005 the likes of John Barclay, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Finn Russell, who have all gone on to earn full Scotland caps, have spent time in the rugby-mad country thanks to the scholarship. As recently as last summer, Adam Ashe was called away from New Zealand to pick up his first full Scotland cap against South Africa.

Edinburgh Rugby academy player Robbins, who plays his club rugby for Watsonians, has had to sacrifice a place in the Scotland under-20 squad for the World Championships in Italy during the summer to go to New Zealand, but he feels it will be worth it.

“Obviously, I want to play as many games for my country as I can, but I will hopefully be involved in the under-20s set-up again next season and at this time my coaches and others feel it is best for me to get more rugby under my belt in New Zealand,” the former George Watson’s College schoolboy explained.

“Having missed the first half of the season just finished through injury, I just want to play as much as I can at the moment and getting consistent matches in a new environment will help me a lot.”

Hunter-Hill, who has just returned from representing Scotland under-18 at the Rugby Europe event in France, said: “I was a little shocked when I found out I had been chosen to go to New Zealand. I didn’t really expect it. Now I have got used to the idea I really want to grasp this opportunity with both hands and I am extremely thankful to the Macphail family.

“Obviously New Zealand is really the country in the world that loves rugby the most, so I want to get out there and see how they do it.

“Being still eligible for under-18 rugby this year, but getting senior appearances with Stewart’s Melville has helped me immensely and now I will be going out and working hard in New Zealand.”

Whilst at Gullane Primary School, Hunter-Hill started playing rugby in the minis section at North Berwick rugby club and then started attending the high school in the town.

After one year at North Berwick High School he moved to Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh and it was there that his rugby talent really began to shine through.

“I learned a lot from the various coaches at Stewart’s Melville College and we had a lot of time to dedicate to our rugby which helped,” Hunter-Hill said.

“The Scotland age-grade stuff I have been involved in has been a step up from school rugby. And senior club rugby with Stewart’s Melville this year since leaving school has also taught me a lot, especially about the physicality of the game.”

Regarding the decision to pick these two players, Scottish Rugby’s head of academy and performance programmes Stephen Gemmell said: “Thank you to the Robertson Trust and Macphail family for their continued support of Scottish Rugby.

“The scholarship has played an important role in a number of our current professional and international players’ careers and will provide a springboard for Ben and Callum to accelerate their development. There are obviously a lot of young players who would have wanted to be selected for this, but having done a lot of research and spoken to their coaches and to Ben and Callum themselves we feel they are the right ‘fit’ to take on this challenge.

“In New Zealand they will have to prove themselves again and show they can perform at a high level week in, week out.”