Sport is intrinsic to the culture of Marlborough College, says Jimmy Scragg, deputy head co-curriculum and outreach, so a specialist rugby bursary was a natural fit

At Marlborough College, we are committed to building a diverse, socially minded and forward-looking school which awards places regardless of background or circumstances. We know that to find the right young people, some of whom may never have thought of an independent education or heard of Marlborough College, we need to work in partnership with other sectors which share our passion to support and develop talent. Sport, and all it stands for, is intrinsic to our culture and so it was not surprising that sport, in this case rugby, would provide a rich opportunity for a mould-breaking partnership.

Beno Obano is one of England’s leading rugby players. He has never forgotten that a Sixth Form bursary changed his life and, we are delighted to say, he is working with us to try and give that opportunity to another young player from a less fortunate and non-traditional rugby playing community.

Beno plays for Bath Rugby Football Club with whom we have strong links, alongside fellow England player Anthony Watson. A visit by the pair to Marlborough College in lockdown to use our track for training planted the seed. They came with Alan Murdoch, Bath’s strength and conditioning coach, who works with Director of Rugby Terry Gilmour to coach our sports scholars, and between the four of them the rugby bursary was born.

Marlborough College

Beno is an inspirational character. He is committed to raising the profile of rugby and made the documentary called Everybody’s Game about which he writes: ‘The documentary is about how rugby is a great sport, and how it should be accessible to everyone. I think rugby has traditionally been a sport played and watched by middle-class white people. However, I’ve been able to benefit in so many ways from rugby and I don’t fit that description. I want to change the perception of rugby and expose more people to it by telling the stories of non-traditional players in the hope those spectating and participating in rugby may begin to grow and diversify.’

The film provoked a more concrete conversation about a partnership. The plan would be to create an annual Sixth Form rugby bursary. Then, following a meeting with the Master, it was agreed that Beno and Anthony would use their connections to identify potential candidates. A generous parent was so inspired by the plan that they offered to make a £1.25m donation to fund one bursary in perpetuity, one of the largest donations for financial aid that the College has ever received. This was matched by the College, meaning that there would be one recipient of the bursary in the Lower Sixth and one in the Upper Sixth at any one time. The donation and this partnership are a key part of the College’s aim to increase the number of full bursaries it can offer to young people who would otherwise be unable to attend Marlborough. Rugby has a heritage at Marlborough that stretches back 150 years and I believe offers an exceptional, inclusive experience for aspiring players. Everyone at the College is thrilled we have created this alliance with Beno and Anthony to find young players who will be a huge asset to the Marlborough rugby programme.

England player, Anthony Watson, in action

Alongside their sporting talent, Beno and Anthony are amazing ambassadors for our bursary partnership and incredible role models for prospective pupils. Beno says: ‘To get a sixth form bursary was amazing. I had so much support and I feel others should have access to this. Rugby changed my life and I had no idea before that I could make a career of it. For me, if the bursary recipient ends up playing for England, that’s great, but what is most important is that we create a good human being who enjoys rugby.’ Anthony adds: ‘I always felt rugby was somewhere to belong and we want to encourage others to realise that it is a great sport and you can make a career of it if you want. I am keen to do anything I can do to help someone experience a great school like Marlborough. But the best possible measurement is not whether they go on to play professional rugby but that they end up going to a university or start a career that otherwise they would not have thought about.’ 

The first recipient of the Obano Watson Rugby Bursary award joined Marlborough in the Lower Sixth in September 2022. We look forward to working with them, and those who come in subsequent years.

See Marlborough School’s online listing here.