Academy duo handed major development opportunity

The 2015 recipients of the prestigious John Macphail Rugby Scholarship have been revealed today at BT Murrayfield.

Two of Scotland’s brightest prospects, Ben Robbins, Scotland under-20 and Watsonians winger and Callum Hunter-Hill, the Scotland under-18 and Stewart’s-Meville lock are the players who will travel to New Zealand to be trained at the Canterbury RFU International High Performance Unit in Christchurch.

Callum Hunter-Hill and Ben Robbins are joined by family and representatives of the John Macphail Scholarship

The duo, who are both aged 18, will play for clubs in the Christchurch area and receive specialist coaching from the Canterbury RFU for 15 weeks.

These players will join the likes of current Scotland internationalists Finn Russell, Adam Ashe and Grant Gilchrist as recent winners of the initiative.

They fly to New Zealand this Saturday (11 April).

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 Callum [Hunter-Hill] and Ben [Robbins] to accelerate their development as part of the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy.

These promising young players will follow in the footsteps of a number of recently capped internationalists.” 

The Robertson Trust funds the John Macphail Scholarship and 2015 marks its 11th year running. 

It was established in memory of former Scotland hooker John Macphail, who died in 2004.

In his business career, he was chief executive then chairman, of Edrington, a private company that is owned by the Robertson Trust. John Macphail was a trustee of the Trust for 28 years and chairman for 19 of those years.

Mark Laing, Chairman of the Robertson Scholarship Trust welcomed today’s announcement.

He said: “It gives me great pleasure to announce the recipients of the 2015 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.

“The Trustees, the Macphail family – who are here in force today – and I, will follow avidly the progress of the two players this summer in New Zealand and in their careers.”

Ben Robbins - 2015 John Macphail Scholarship recipient

This season Robbins has won four caps for Scotland under-20 and helped contribute to a positive year for the junior national team, which finished third in the under-20 6 Nations, with tries against Italy and England.

He said: “I’m really excited to have the chance to go to New Zealand. It’s a fantastic opportunity and a whole new experience that I’m looking to get the most out of. 

I’ve got certain areas of my game that I have been working on at Edinburgh Rugby, such as my handling, game awareness and match fitness, and I know this scholarship will give me a different outlook to work on these and bring me on as a player.

 “My time with Scotland under-20 has been really good this season. We had a pretty successful competition, but for me I had to work hard coming back from injury and I feel I came on as a player. 

“I wasn’t involved in the lead up to the tournament, or in the opening game against France, but I got myself onto the bench against Wales. 

“At that point I was still up against two good wingers but I worked hard to compete for the jersey, and my first start came later in the tournament.”

Callum Hunter-Hill - 2015 John Macphail Scholarship recipient

Hunter-Hill, who returned from the Rugby Europe Elite Competition in Toulouse on Sunday, has seven caps for Scotland under-18. He captained them in France against the host nation, Ireland and Portugal and against England in Newcastle.

He said: “I’m incredibly excited about the trip. I’m a little nervous, but it’s a fantastic opportunity that I intend to grasp with both hands. 

“To have the chance to play and train with some of the best players in the world, and to be immersed in such a strong rugby culture will be a fantastic experience.

“There are specific areas of my game that I’ll will be looking to develop in New Zealand. These are physical and technical elements, and the Macphail Scholarship will give me a chance to do this.

The Scotland under-18s season has been an amazing experience for us as a team and for me as an individual. We’ve had a mixed set of results, but in terms of performances we have grown as a group. 

“Personally, I have enjoyed the role as captain and have gained a lot from the experience.

“From talking to coaches, I understand that as captain you have to lead both on and off the pitch, and I feel that I have been able to put this into practice this season, with solid performances in the games and professionalism, organisation and maturity off the pitch.”