Rhodes, Furman universities establish rugby exchange

Furman, a small-college rugby power that recently moved to Division II, wanted to infuse experienced, international players into its roster. Furman coaches, too, were also looking for a place to send top players where they could study, earn academic credit and become immersed in top-level rugby.

Rhodes University (Grahamstown, South Africa), a fast improving rugby program that is on track to join a league of elite teams in the rugby rich nation, wanted to provide players an opportunity to travel abroad, develop leadership, and be ambassadors for the school and sport.

Today, Furman and Rhodes announced a joint partnership that team officials say will help both squads accomplish the goals.

The Rhodes-Furman Rugby Exchange allows student athletes at Furman to earn academic credit at Rhodes. Students at Rhodes, too, may study and earn academic credit through their Furman coursework. The cost of this full exchange is covered through normal tuition and housing costs.

“Furman has vibrant study away and international exchange programs. This rugby exchange combines athletics and academics in a unique, creative and entrepreneurial way,” John Beckford, Furman’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. “ It should be an enriching experience for all involved.”

The two schools have been swapping students since 2000. Since that time roughly 25 undergraduates have taken part in the program. The Rhodes-Furman Rugby Exchange should strengthen the connection.

“The coaches from both of these programs reached out to us late last fall and we have been happy to work with them,” said Chrissy McCrary, program assistant for Furman’s Office of Study Away and International Education. “International exchange programs can be a transformative experience for college students. And college athletics can be a great vehicle for these exchanges.”

Under terms of the agreement, rugby coaches from Furman and Rhodes will serve as mentors to participating exchange students. The host team will also appoint a player to partner with each participant. The player-partner will check on the student from time to time outside of practice and help him transition to life at the host institution. Participants must attend all rugby training sessions and games throughout the exchange unless they are excused for academic field trips, labs or sickness.

Furman Coach John Roberts says a steady influx of international players and recently added rugby scholarship players should help the Paladins be as championship competitive in Division II as they were in Division III when the team compiled three national championships (2003-05) and finished runner up in 2007 and 2008.

“My assistant coach (Darren Scott) is from New Zealand and I always appreciate the influence that international players and coaches can have on a team,” says Roberts. “They bring an intensity and passion for rugby with them because they grew up with the game.”

Roberts expects two or three Rhodes players to join the Furman team for the 2013-14 academic year.

Coach Qondakele Sompondo, a second-year coach at Rhodes who has infused new energy and high-hopes in the rugby program there, said the exchange “affirms the seriousness of rugby at Rhodes.”

“We are planning to send leaders to Furman, players who can help them learn the game and leave their mark,” said Sompondo. “I admire the university’s holistic approach to education and I am looking forward to sending my players there to study and play in that environment.”