Rhodes Scholar Taylor joins elite club

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Australian Sevens rugby representative Jacob Taylor joined an elite group with the announcement this week that he was the NSW Rhodes Scholar for 2012.

The elite group includes Sydney University Football Club members who have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships since they were established in 1904. They include Tom Lawton (1920), Arthur “Johnny” Wallace (1922), Roland Raymond (1923), Basil “Jika” Travers (1946), Roger Davis (1974) Peter King (1975), Michael L’Estrange (1976), Philip Crowe (1980) and Tony Abbott (1981).

Lawton, Wallace, Raymond, Travers and Davis are capped Wallabies, while Crowe earned Wallaby status. Lawton and Wallace were also Wallaby captains.

Taylor will take up residency at Oxford University in September 2013 to continue his studies at the Centre for Anthropology and Mind, where he’ll research in the emerging area of neurological anthropology, looking at the way the human brain and body interact within physical, social and cultural environments, using sport in China as a specific example.

Selecting Chinese as his focus group was a considered option. Having started studying Mandarin in Year 9 at Canberra Grammar School, Taylor is now fluent in the language. He spent a Gap year in 2006 at Shenyang, north of Beijing, furthering his studies and another stint during the 2008 Olympic Games honing his language skills by working as a liaison officer in Beijing.

Taylor is well aware of the significance of the award, from the academic and sporting fronts. As a Sydney University Sports Scholarship holder and member of the Elite Athlete Program, he was the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Sporting Scholarship (selected with an emphasis on academic merit) in 2010, the same year he completed his BA with honours in languages.

From a sporting angle, he is the son of Wallaby winger John Taylor, who represented Australia in 1971-72 and played first grade for SUFC while studying veterinary science. Jacob’s grandfather also played rugby for SUFC.

Jacob has been vice-captain of the Australian Sevens team since being selected in the squad in 2010. Since then he has mixed studies and sport, with Sevens tournaments taking him to Dubai, South Africa, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the US, England, Scotland, Italy and Fiji. And if his injured shoulder mends in time, he’s hoping to attend the World Cup in Moscow in June, 2013 before heading off to Oxford.

“I was over the moon when I heard my application had been successful,” said Jacob, who hopes his studies will assist him in his aim to help forge a healthy relationship between Australia and China.

“My focus is on sport in China and the way culture affects the way we use our bodies. The motivation is to find out how we can better interact across cultures and how environment shapes the way we think and act.”

His Oxford studies will build on his Sydney University work – his honours thesis was titled ‘Why do Chinese rugby players exhibit a different “feel” for the game than their Australian/Fijian/Kenyan counterparts?’

Jacob was a co-author of the Australia-China Youth Dialogue submission to the recently released government white paper on “Australia in the Asian Century” and is also the co-founder of the Engaging China Project, a youth-driven, not-for-profit project aiming to ignite interest in China among high school students.

Born and raised in Harden-Murrumburrah in NSW’s Central West, where his mother is an education consultant and his dad practises veterinary science, he played rugby league during his early years. “Harden is in the middle of the Group 9 competition that has produced a lot of good league players,” he said. “I didn’t start playing rugby until I went to Canberra Grammar School in Year 7.”

Jacob made the ACT Schoolboys XV as a winger in 2005, when the ACT hosted the Australian Championships. He took a year off to study in China in after completing the Higher School Certificate and enrolled at Sydney University in 2007. He was an automatic selection as winger in the Colts First Grade side that won the competition that year.

After missing the 2008 season while spending more time in China, he backed up the Colts premiership with a Shute Shield title in 2010. It was a stand-out season which earned him a berth as halfback in the Australian Sevens squad.

He was one of just two players from the 22 used in 2010 to play in every tournament of the World Series and one of five members within the present squad to taste victory at the London Sevens in 2010.

While he has made his mark in rugby, Jacob might have pursued cricket as his sport of choice. He was awarded a sports scholarship for cricket when he enrolled at Sydney University in 2007 and played two seasons in Second and Third grades and in the Poidevin-Gray Shield (Under 21) side as a left-arm medium pacer-cum-right-hand batsman. He transferred to a rugby sports scholarship in 2009.

Having resided at International House during his Freshman year, he’s looking forward to entering college at Oxford and is in the process of submitting a residence of choice.

“I was very fortunate to be on the SUS scholarship program and the EAP,” he said. “They are great programs for athletes and provide plenty of resources. The system of academic support is great way of helping student athletes study and compete. I’ve since been doing some tutoring in the system since I graduated.

“The EAP also provides a great training program for rugby. I’d really like to give it a wrap for its support of athletes, particularly those with busy sporting and academic schedules.

“And the University Rugby Club has also been very supportive, not only on the field but in the pursuit of excellence off the field as well.”

Oxford will not only be getting another bright mind, they’ll be getting a talented cricketer and football as well.