PhD student scores new scholarship to support elite rugby athletes

25 June 2018

PhD student Conor McNeill.

PhD student Conor McNeill may be specialising in fatigue monitoring in rugby union but there’ll be no rest for him as he embarks on three years of study. He's the inaugural recipient of the University of Waikato – Bay of Plenty Rugby Union Doctoral Scholarship.

The scholarship is designed to enhance the candidate’s understanding of Human Performance Science and Sport Technology skills as they relate to ‘rugby athlete performance’. This involves undertaking research which will support elite rugby athletes from the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union’s provincial competition and development squads.

For Conor, who relocated from Seattle to study here, the opportunity to work with supervisors who have dual roles with New Zealand’s top rugby teams, Dr Travis McMaster (All Blacks and Black Ferns Sevens Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach) and Associate Professor Nicholas Gill (All Blacks Strength and Conditioning Coach) is invaluable.

“It’s an honour to accept the scholarship and I look forward to joining this team and organisation,” says Conor. “I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned from my experiences working with top-level American football and Olympic athletes.”

Established this year, the scholarship will support one doctoral candidate while they undertake doctoral research with the Faculty of Health, Sport and Human Performance (FHSHP) at the University of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance based in Tauranga.

Acting Dean of FHSHP Dr Kirsten Petrie says partnering with the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union provides a unique and exciting opportunity for Conor. "And it also helps to extend the university’s commitment to ensuring that research has relevance for our communities, and helps to enhance the success of regional stakeholders.”

Bay of Plenty Rugby Union’s head strength and conditioning coach Brad Mayo says the collaboration to deliver the new doctoral scholarship will be beneficial for the development of sport science within rugby.

“It’s awesome to have Conor on board with us for the next three years,” says Brad. “It’s an exciting time for us. We are lucky enough to have Travis [McMaster] and Gilly [Nic Gill] involved as our supervisors. Both are leaders in rugby research being produced in New Zealand. This aligns with one of our goals to be innovative and continue to push the boundaries with physical preparation.”

Conor was humbled by the willingness of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union and University of Waikato staff who have worked collaboratively to develop the scholarship.“I would like to thank Mike Rogers, Clayton McMillan and Brad Mayo as well as Kirsten Petrie, Travis McMaster, Martyn Beaven and Nic Gill for making this opportunity possible,” he says.