THE three latest recipients of the prestigious Macphail Scholarship were announced earlier today [Wednesday] after a two-year Covid-enforced absence, with stand-off Guy Kirkpatrick, back-row Monroe Job and prop Callum Smyth [all aged 18] being handed the opportunity to train and play at Stellenbosch University – the legendary South African rugby nursery – over the next five months.
The trio will set off on this once in a lifetime adventure on Monday 23rd January, and will be following in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in Scottish rugby in years, with players such as John Barclay, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist previous recipients of the scholarship.
Kirkpatrick, Job and Smyth will be part of a 40-man squad drawn from across the globe to train together in ‘pre-season’ for two months, then play a series of games before embarking on an end of programme tour.
Raised in Selkirk, back-rower Job has been involved in the Scottish Rugby pathway from Under-14s and has played for Scotland at under-16s and under-17s level. He has been a key man for Premiership play-off chasing Selkirk this season, who face a crunch match against fifth in the table Marr at Philiphaugh on Saturday.
“It is a massive game and I am keen to be involved,” he replied, when asked if he will be wrapping himself in cotton-wool ahead of his trip to South Africa instead of playing in that match. “Hopefully Selkirk stay top four and push for two wins at the end of the season without me, and there is the Border League Final too, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
“I think nine boys from the Academy got put forward and then it was whittled down to three, so I am fairly lucky I’d say. I think the Academy coaches just kept an eye on how you were on and off the pitch.
“Playing for the Selkirk firsts has been amazing, it is a big step up physically so I found that hard at first, but I’ve found it easier throughout the season and it is a challenge that I’m relishing.
“We struggled to put out a team sometimes with Selkirk Youth last year and the level we were playing at wasn’t the best, but I just enjoyed playing with my mates. 15s wise we didn’t do too well, but we were good at sevens and we won three tournaments, I think, including our own sevens which is a day with my mates I’ll never forget.
“Heading to South Africa, I just want to develop as a player and see how much I can improve, and I want to enjoy myself and take all the opportunities that come my way out there. Everyone will be from different cultures and different backgrounds and it’ll be great to learn from them and find out about their rugby and the way they play.”
Job was part of the Scotland Under-18s squad who beat Italy and pushed big dogs England and France hard in the Six Nations Under-18 Festival at the French National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis near Paris last Easter, and credits that experience as being a huge boost to his development.
“It was second to none,” he said. “We played against the best under-18 teams in the world and it was special being involved in that and representing Scotland. It meant a lot.”
Kirkpatrick – son of former Jed-Forest and Scotland XV back-rower, Ronnie – left George Heriot’s School in the summer and has played three games for Heriot’s Blues in the Premiership this season. He recently played for Edinburgh Under-19s in their match against Glasgow Warriors.
“I hope this is really going to push me on into the under-20s programme next year, so that’s something I’ve really got my sights set on,” he said. “I think, when you come out of school, you have the tools to play men’s rugby, but controlling the game at that level comes with experience.
“There are a lot of experienced 10s down at Heriot’s so it has been good for me to work next to these guys, and see their understanding of the game and game management. Hopefull,y I can keep developing that during the next few months, and I’m sure I’ll learn a whole lot more on top of that.”
Smyth, who spent two years on a rugby scholarship at Bedford School (ranked eighth in England last season), has arrived at this juncture via Scottish Rugby’s SQ programme. He started out in the game with Kettering RFC and made his senior debut for the 1st XV in August before moving to the Borders to join the Scottish Rugby Academy and study sports coaching and management at the Gala campus of Heriot Watt University.
“I can play loose-head but probably prefer tight-head,” he explained. “I’m Scottish qualified through my mum, who was born in Ayr and lived there until she was 25 when she met my [Irish] dad and they moved to England.
“I got involved in the exiles through one of my coaches who was linked into the SQ stuff,” he added. “That was at under-16 level, but then Covid hit when I was due to play for Scotland under-16s.
“I must have still been in the books because I was sent an email out of the blue last year asking me if I’d like to attend a Scotland under-18 trial. I managed to get through and get onto the France trip and that was the best experience ever. I would love to do it again. I learnt so much, the standard of opponents and the standard of player I was with was just so high, it was brilliant.
“Since I was as young as I can remember I have always supported Scotland, my mum just kind of drilled it into me! All my rugby jerseys at home are Scottish, I have supported them since day one really and in the back of my mind I was always hopeful of going down that route.
“I am really looking forward to going to the country where the World Cup holders are and knowing how forward orientated they are too, I think I’ll learn so much.”
Smyth was recruited by Job to play for Selkirk in the Premiership this season, but a concussion and then glandular fever has limited him to just three appearances for the Philiphaugh club.
The Macphail Scholarship was established in 2005, as a partnership between The Robertson Trust and Scottish Rugby, in memory of ex-Scotland internationalist John Macphail. It was initially developed for talented young players but has also supported coaches, including Mike Blair and Kenny Murray.
The scholarship last ran in 2020 when Mikey Heron, Cole Lamberton and Adam Scott travelled to South Africa but their stay was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scottish Rugby Technical & Operations Director, Stephen Gemmell, said: “Our partnership with The Robertson Trust and Macphail family is invaluable and gives us the opportunity to send three of our most promising young players to a world class playing environment in South Africa to immerse themselves in a fresh challenge with promising players from different countries and cultures.
“Unfortunately our 2020 group’s visit to Stellenbosch Academy of Sport was cut short due to the pandemic but this year’s cohort will follow in their footsteps where they will be exposed to an environment that will undoubtedly accelerate their development
“The scholarship has a proven track record of playing a key part in the careers of established professional and international players and we have high hopes for the next set of players who will benefit hugely fromthis experience.”
Jim McCormick, CEO of The Robertson Trust, said: “The John Macphail Scholarship has proved to be instrumental in the development of some of the brightest player and coach prospects in Scotland and The Robertson Trust is incredibly proud to have been part of that journey. The remaining funding allocated from our previous strategy, held over due to the pandemic, will nowbe used to fund the scholarship in 2023 and 2024.
“All at The Robertson Trust, along with the Macphail family,would like to wish Guy, Monroe and Callum the best of luck, not just for their time in South Africa but as their careers develop.
“I am sure they will all gain a lot from the life-changing opportunities the scholarship offers and I look forward to following their progress.”
John Macphail Rugby Scholarship recipients:
- 2022: Guy Kirkpatrick, Monroe Job and Callum Smyth
- 2019: Mikey Heron, Cole Lamberton and Adam Scott
- 2018: Thomas Jeffrey, Jacob Henry and Kristian Kay
- 2017: Angus Fraser, Andrew Jardine and Guy Kelly
- 2016: Patrick Kelly, Ross McCann, Mike Blair (coach) and Calum Forrester (coach)
- 2015: Callum Hunter-Hill, Ben Robbins, Ben Cairns (coach) and Duncan Hodge (coach)
- 2014: Adam Ashe, Ewan McQuillin, Don Caskie (coach) and Kenny Murray (coach)
- 2013: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Finn Russell, Shade Munro (coach) and Alex Duncan (coach)
- 2012: Jonny Gray, Gregor Hunter, Chris Paterson (coach) and Ben Fisher (coach)
- 2011: Grant Gilchrist, Harry Leonard, George Turner and Ian Monaghan (coach)
- 2010: Finlay Gillies
- 2009: Lewis Niven
- 2008: Roddy Grant
- 2007: Kevin Bryce
- 2006: Graham Hogg
- 2005: John Barclay