Develop young people into leaders with outstanding character


The Rhinos Rugby Academy was founded in 2014 in Irvine, California with the purpose of bringing Tier 1 international rugby training and game standards to the US Youth Rugby. The Academy has grown to provide athletes a clear and competitive rugby pathway from junior age, to college and professional level. The Academy fosters an environment where athletes apply core values in both rugby and life, such a respect, honor, discipline, integrity, teamwork and accountability. The Rugby Academy offers 4 major programs for all student rugby athletes:

The Academy has two facilities, one in Irvine (servicing Southern California), and one in Sacramento (servicing Northern California). In addition, the Academy operates a remote training program. Each location provides custom-designed world-class facilities and selectively recruited staff that implement the Academy programs Monday thru Saturday, year-around.

High-School rugby (U16 – U18 age groups). This is the “Learn to Execute Under Pressure” phase (learn to execute performance rugby skills under pressure, and in competition, once they are mastered through training).

Junior rugby (U8 – U14 age groups). This includes “FUNdamentals” as well as “Learn to Play and Practice” phases (fun, safety, basic skills and understanding of the game and spacial awareness).

U20 rugby (U19 – U20 age groups). This is the “Learn to Adapt” phase (learn to adjust to various match conditions, including change of strategy, through multi-functional roles adaptability).

PRO program. This is the “Elite” phase (train and compete consistently at the highest level of rugby performance while always cultivating a “team-first“ environment).


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Training Philosophy


Our programs focus on goal-oriented training with constant progress tracking and adjustment. They are centered around strong core values that build confidence and self-assuredness. The workouts are customized for each athlete, depending on their age, level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), abilities and previous performance.



Take responsibility for your actions    You are part of a team and the team’s successes and failures are yours as well    Your behavior reflects on your teammates, family, and all Rhinos members.


Play the game as hard as you can but within the laws    Be a proud, supportive, and positive team member    Be tolerant and respectful of different points of view.



Set and accomplish goals, individually and as a team    Put the team’s goals before your own    Help your teammates accomplish them    Be resilient when you feel like quitting and encourage others to be the same.


Chief Executive Officer

Andreea Trufasu

Andreea is the co-owner and CEO of Rhinos Academy. She was born in Romania, and came to US in 1997 for college (Pepperdine University), where she earned a Bachelor of Science, while on the university’s first ever and only full-scholarship in swimming.

Andreea has been a rugby supporter since 2001, channeling her appreciation and passion for the sport and its values into the every day life of the Academy.

She brings her sports, academics and business experience to the Academy to help student-athletes believe in their goals and figure out a pathway to achieve them.

Besides growing the Academy, some of Andreea’s proud accomplishments include:

  • 1996 Olympic Games (Atlanta)
  • 1995 World Cup (China)
  • National and European Champion
  • Romanian Masters and Pepperdine University record holder
  • Business owner

After living in Romania, USA and Hong Kong, Andreea decided to settle back in California where she built a software business, project.essence, also a sponsor of the Academy.

She dedicates most of her time running her company, the Academy, and creating long-lasting beautiful memories with her family and friends.


Derek Nellmapius

Derek is the founder and co-owner of Rhinos Academy, in charge of forging the pathway of high-performance development for youth rugby in US.

Derek was born in South Africa and played rugby for the Wanderers 1st Division Club and the Pirates Club in Johannesburg. He graduated from the prestigious St. Stithians College, and was a nationally ranked golfer as well as cricket player (1st Division), and a successful track athlete.

Derek is a US Level 300/World Rugby Level 2 rugby coach and a Level 100 rugby referee.

After moving to California in 1994 , Derek started his company, PoolRx Worldwide Inc., and turned it into a successful swimming pool product business that has been the Academy’s main sponsor since its inception in 2014. He dedicates most of his time to helping youth rugby and is very passionate about seeing kids succeed in their dreams and helping his adopted country, USA, become a Tier 1 rugby nation.

Strength & Conditioning Coach

Lucious Smith

Lucious “Lou”, an LA Rams Legend, is one of the most experienced and dedicated strength and conditioning coaches at our Academy. Dare to try survive his Speed and Agility program!

Head of Design

Iulian Franciuc

Rugby Coach

Mason Pedersen

Regional Academy Coach

Nick Boyer

Speed & Functional Movement Coach

David Musa

Facility Supervisor

Brendan Purcell

Rhinos School Teacher

Mandy Moussavi

HR Generalist

Donna Yates

Logistics Supports

Steve Savage

Logistics Support

Mark Portnoy

Operations & Marketing Associate

Adriana LaShelle


Billy Nicholas

USA SCHOOLS and Regional Academy Coach

Chris Erasmus

USA SCHOOLS and Regional Academy Coach

Hope Rogers

USA SCHOOLS and Regional Academy Coach

Amy Talei Bonte

Regional Academy Coach

Nate Augspurger

Regional Academy Coach

Mikey Te’o

Sports School Teacher

Rachel Miller

Strength & Conditioning Coach

Jacob Smith

USA SCHOOLS and Regional Academy Coach

Justin Benn

Regional Academy Coach

Nene Persinger

Academic Philosophy


The Academy places great emphasis on the academic success of our student-athletes, with the goal of getting them to college and through college on athletic scholarships.




Eti Haungatau Women Eagles XV



Mase Funa University of Oregon (Football)


Diego Vasquez Saint Mary’s College of California
Jacob Jenkins Cal Maritime
Kenji Ellison Arizona State University
Jayden Lampley San Jose State University
Jack Krull Boise State University
Latufeao Humboldt University (Football)
Jason Uipi Humboldt University (Football)
Moses Finau Humboldt University (Football)
Angel Torres New England University


Dominic Iacovino Grand Canyon University, Arizona; Freshman of the Week
Christian Gilbert Spring Hill College, Alabama


Aaron Matthews Saint Mary’s College of California; Rookie of the Year; Division 1 Freshman of the Year; 2018 College All-American
Chris Taliu Saint Mary’s College of California
Jimmy McLean Boise State University
Brendan O’Meara Boise State University
Garret Wessel Boise State University