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.


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:

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).

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.

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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.

eCommerce Coordinator

Nani Hamilton

Operations Admin

Jen Matthews

Jen supports our daily operations, making sure that members get what they need and our day-to-day activities are running smoothly.

Facilities & Equipment Manager

Kevin Hamilton

Hailing from Kansas City, Kevin is our “magician”, getting anything built or done that the Academy needs.

Head of Design

Iulian Franciuc

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!

Strength & Conditioning Coach

Marshel Gleason

Academics Specialist

Ahmad Sunda

Sunda, our Academics Specialist, is an inspiration to our teams. He was a college football team captain and graduated with Masters degree. He helps the Academy grow its Academics, from tutoring to homeschooling programs, as well as being an integral part of our college recruiting team.

Head of Rugby and S&C

Hendrik “Hein” Kriek

South-African born, Hein is the Academy’s Head of Rugby and S&C, bringing his impressive experience in rugby, coaching and teaching to develop American youth to high-performance rugby.

He is one of the few coaches in the world holding a World Rugby Level 3 badge, as well as a Bachelor in Science with Honors in Sport Science (Pothefstroom University for Christian Higher Education). He is actively pursuing his Masters in Science for Sport Directorship (Salford University – Manchester UK).

After playing for the Western Provine Disa Team, Hein developed a successful and extensive coaching resume that includes:

  • Czech Republic Rugby Union – Forwards and S&C Coach and Coaching Development Manager
  • Mpumalanga Rugby Union (Puma’s) – Forwards Coach Professional Side Currie Cup
  • South African Rugby Union – Head Coach South African Schools u18 
  • Western Province – Head Coach U18 Academy Team, U18 Craven Week, WP Invitational and Elite Squad Toyota School of Excellence
  • Paul Roos Gymnasium – Head Coach 1st team
  • Hamilton’s Sea Point Rugby Football Club – Forwards Coach 1st team

Hein’s career highlights include:

  • Czech Republic Rugby Union – 1st Historical win over the New Zealand Ambassadors XV
  • South African Rugby Union – Quadrangular tournament versus France, Wales and England
  • Western Province – Interprovincial Academy Week Champions (2008/2010/2012); Interprovincial Craven Week Champions (2013)
  • Paul Roos Gymnasium – Nr. 2 Ranked U19 team in South Africa (2014-2015); SANIX World Youth Champions (2015)
  • Hamilton’s Sea Point Rugby Football Club – Super A Grand Challenge Champions (2009) ; National Club Champions (2009); Henry Marcus trophy for coach of the year (2010)
  • Milnerton High School  – “Die Burger” Trophy Champions

Hein is passionate about developing youth rugby.

Training Centers Manager

Norman Krebill

Head of Technology, Marketing & Operations

Andreea Trufasu

Andreea is the co-owner of Rhinos Academy, and runs the technology, operations, and marketing departments. 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 (2018)
  • 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, alos 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.

High-Performance Rugby Coach

Orene Ai’i


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.


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