Scotland’s most recent new cap Grant Gilchrist and experienced openside flanker John Barclay know what it involves to leave home comforts and immerse themselves in a new rugby and cultural experience.
Today, two young Scottish rugby prospects will be following in the footsteps of such illustrious predecessors being named as the latest recipients of the John Macphail Scholarship.
Prop Alex Allan (Edinburgh Accies) and stand-off Finn Russell (Ayr), elite development players with Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors respectively, will spend 15 weeks in New Zealand’s South Island, playing for local clubs in the Christchurch area and benefiting from the state-of-the art facilities and specialist coaching offered by the Canterbury RFU’s international high performance unit.
Allan, 21, made his debut for Edinburgh Rugby in the Heineken Cup against Munster this season and his Rabo Direct PRO12 debut against Ospreys last month, while Russell, 20, contributed points off the bench to Glasgow Warriors win against Zebre also in February and won 10 caps for the Scotland under-20 team last year.
Allan went on to make a try-scoring, man of the match contribution to the Scotland Club XV’s victory over their Irish counterparts at Millbrae, while Russell is one of a number of talented young backs who have helped Ayr to their RBS Premier Division triumph this season.
Allan was born in Harrogate and qualifies for Scotland through his Edinburgh born-grandfather. He is studying commercial management and quantity surveying and can play on either side of the front row.
He has played 15 times for the Scotland under-20 side having graduated from the national under-17 and under-18 teams.
He said: “New Zealand are world champions with a lot of pride and a lot of history. I hope to see why rugby is so good there and test myself in the environment that produces these players.
“It’ll be interesting to see what the difference is both on and off the rugby pitch.
“Obviously I was delighted when I learned that I had been awarded this scholarship as it’s a great opportunity to advance my skills.”
Russell, an apprentice stonemason, whose younger brother Archie, an outside centre, is in the Scotland under-18 squad and older brother, Harry, plays scrum-half for West of Scotland, is “really excited” about the opportunity that awaits.
“I feel really grateful for this chance and lucky when you think of the number of players who could come into contention.
“I’m not sure yet which club I’ll be going to but my initial objective will be to do as well as I can for that club, learn and make good contacts there.
“It’ll be a different lifestyle over there, I guess, so whatever I can learn from it and whatever I can find out that I’ll try to use to improve my game and bring back to Scotland with me is my main goal.”
Russell, a former pupil of Wallace High School in Stirling, has visited family friends in New Zealand in the past and believes his exposure to New Zealand rugby can help him “raise my game and improve my prospects of being picked in a very competitive Glasgow Warriors squad.”
Kenneth Ferguson, Director of the Robertson Scholarship Trust, said: “It gives me great pleasure to announce the recipients of the 2013 John Macphail Rugby Scholarship.
“We are once again looking forward to witnessing the impact on the players’ skills and overall development that will be the legacy of their time in New Zealand.
“Along with the Trustees, the Macphail family, who are here in force today, will follow avidly the progress of the two players both this summer in New Zealand and in their subsequent careers.”
The Macphail Scholarship, now entering its ninth year, was established in memory of former Scotland hooker John Macphail, who died in 2004. In Macphail’s business career, he was chief executive then chairman, of the Edrington Group, a private company that is owned by the Robertson Trust. Macphail was a trustee of the Robertson Trust for 28 years and chairman for 19 of those years.
The scholarship has a proud record of assisting the development of Scottish talent and previous winners also include the Edinburgh Rugby flanker Roddy Grant, stand-off Harry Leonard and hooker George Turner.
In addition to the two players, two coaches will also have the chance to broaden their knowledge through the scholarship with a similar trip to New Zealand.
Coaches at RBS Premier Division clubs, age-grade and women’s international coaches and Scottish Rugby performance department staff all have the chance to apply with the announcement of the successful coaches in mid/late April.
Stephen Gemmell, Scottish Rugby’s Head of Performance Development said: “Congratulations to Alex and Finn on being chosen for the scholarship.
“They know they have big boots to fill when they see how the likes of Grant Gilchrist and Johnny Gray have used the experience as a springboard to develop their rugby.
“Once again, on behalf of Scottish Rugby, I would like to thank the Robertson Scholarship Trust for their support in helping us to enhance the development of some of the best young players in Scotland and we are grateful too to the Macphail family for the backing they give the individuals.”