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Scholarship Recipients Make Early Mark at Nelson College

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Scholarship Recipients Make Early Mark at Nelson College

Conor Bender and JW Sarkees are at Nelson College in New Zealand for the next several months.

The scholarship recipients at Nelson College in New Zealand have started off nicely.


Conor Bender of St. Ignatius in Cleveland, Ohio. and JW Sarkees of Greer in South Carolina have already taken the field. They are not the only Americans there. Oliver Kirk, who received one of the US Rugby Foundation scholarships to Nelson in 2023, has returned to the school for a second term.

Kirk made such an impression that Nelson invited him back for another year.


Bender, playing loose forward, meanwhile, scored two tries for Nelson in his latest game and in a short text message to GRR said "everything is going great. I'm loving it and taking a lot of notes."


Sarkees arrived early for his term and settled in nicely, and he and Kirk and Bender have bonded well with each other, with their rugby teammates, and also the other international students. In addition, all three Americans work with Head Coach Jono Phillips on weekly targeted skills sessions. This is an immersive learning experience that is likely designed to ensure they are best positioned to succeed with the Nelson program.

Learn more about how the US Rugby Foundation helps players here>>

Sarkees started the term coming off the bench at scrumhalf and then this past Saturday started at fullback, getting Man of the Match. Here he is setting up a try—it's clear from the noise on the sideline that they weren't exactly sure if the American would do the right thing—draw the defender, pass in time, and take the hit. However, Sarkees did exactly that, and the cheers show the team's appreciation.

Nelson started their regular season this week.