To be the best you have to learn from the best.

That's the theory behind a group of six American rugby players spending eight weeks playing for the Ngongotaha Premier 2 development side.

Keegan Lowensen, Josh Thorne, Jesse Linsenmeyer, Tyler Myles, Archie Cullen and Campbell Johnstone play for Mount St Mary's University in Maryland and jumped at the opportunity to spend time in the world's leading rugby nation.

Former Rotorua man Dean Wharekura has been working with rugby sides in the US and approached his cousin, and head coach at the Ngongotaha Rugby Club, Jodie Wharekura about sending some players over.


Ngongotaha premier team manager Jared Grace said the Americans, who were halfway through their eight weeks here, had come for the full rugby and cultural experience.

"Dean thought if these guys want to learn about rugby, rugby culture and what it means to the community, there's no other place like his hometown Rotorua.

"We're integrating the young men into our rugby programme and also into our community - all six have been billeted with very influential families within our club and community," Grace said.

They were also training at the Rotorua Boys' High School rugby academy.

"RBHS have been fantastic in giving the guys an insight into how focused our young rugby players are at a high school level.

"Traditionally our club has a relationship with Western Heights High School and that will continue, but we just saw with the programme RBHS have and being former national champions, they are second to none in the local region.

"Off the field the boys have been fantastic - rugby is rugby but they've been really enjoying the cultural immersion."

He said there were benefits for the Ngongotaha Rugby Club and community in hosting the Americans as well.

"They've actually reinvigorated some of the passion that our community members have for rugby - they eat, sleep and breathe rugby.

"They're quite infectious with their positive attitude and they have brought a new enthusiasm for training.

"They are very green, they are still learning, but it's that willingness and eagerness to learn that has really lifted our guys up another notch in terms of attitude."

Lowensen said he and his fellow Americans had come to New Zealand to grow as rugby players and as men.

"We want to learn about the rugby culture here and share it with the other guys back home.

"Rugby is by far the fastest growing sport in the States - anyone who doesn't play [American] football basically plays rugby," Lowensen said.

Linsenmeyer said rugby in New Zealand was "very physical".

"It's a lot quicker, you really have to be on your toes.

"Playing with Ngongotaha - it's like a brotherhood, it's really refreshing.

"They've welcomed us right in, we've only been here a few weeks but they've made us feel like we've been here longer.

"We're really blessed that they're on board with us being here.

"As well as learning rugby skills, we're learning intangible things.

"Things outside of rugby like the culture, the history of the Maori and we're really just taking it all in," Linsenmeyer said.

Thorne said he was hoping to get better and develop his skills.

"The All Blacks are a powerhouse and you can tell rugby is a lot more important here than it is in America," Thorne said.

All six players planned to get a permanent souvenir in the form of a ta moko before heading home.