Former Millburn Academy pupil appointed head coach of China rugby sevens women's team that will compete at Olympic Games for the first time
Get the Inverness Courier sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
Euan Mackintosh tells Will Clark how he is looking to make China a stronger force in rugby sevens as they prepare to compete at the Olympics for the first time
EUAN Mackintosh is attempting to lead something special in the world of rugby sevens.
The former Highland Under-18s captain has been appointed head coach of China women’s sevens rugby team which has qualified for the Olympics for the first time.
The 35-year-old from Beauly, who has coached all over the world in the traditional powerhouses of the sport including Australia, France and New Zealand, is in the process of organising China’s bid for Olympic glory at Tokyo next year.
China may be considered a minnow in world rugby, but since sevens became an Olympic sport, the support given to the game has increased significantly.
The former Millburn Academy pupil believes China are a sleeping giant in the sevens game and could make a major impact within the next decade.
“People may think China is not a powerhouse of rugby, but their structure for sevens is way ahead of other nations ranked higher in the world rankings,” he said.
“The potential here is huge and we would like to believe that we have grown and are catching up on the other nations.
“It is an exciting time, especially if China keeps moving in the same direction.
“Definitely in the next 10 years, China is a country you would expect to see achieve some special things in sevens.”
Mackintosh started playing rugby as a youngster at Highland Rugby Club before continuing playing at university in Edinburgh while studying physical education.
He went to New Zealand to play rugby in Christchurch before heading to Australia in 2008 where he played rugby alongside relief teaching.
He then moved to France where he played for a semi professional rugby club before being offered a full-time coaching job at St Etienne, which inspired him to continue his career in coaching.
“After getting injured I got offered a full-time coaching position at St Etienne and during two seasons there, I did individual skill coaching with French Top 14 players in Lyon.
“It kept the fire burning to what I wanted to achieve as a coach.
“I was 26 or 27 at the time and the coaching side of things gave me inspiration about what I could do and what was out there and looking what the world is as a whole in rugby terms.
“It opened my eyes to grow as a coach and coaching full time.”
Mackintosh moved to New Zealand when he was offered a coaching role at Tauranga Sports Rugby Club in Bay of Plenty, where he spent more than two years.
He coached the Bay of Plenty Sevens Programme and was part of the coaching team which led Bay of Plenty Under-19s to the national championship.
It was there he met former Bay of Plenty men’s first team head coach Sean Horan who invited him to China to help them coach their sevens programme and realise their Olympic dream before he was appointed as head coach this month.
“In 2012 Sean was named New Zealand Women’s sevens head coach and built their programme, which led to them winning a silver medal in Rio in 2016,” he said.
“I worked with him at the Bay of Plenty’s men sevens programme, then he got contacted by China whose main aim was to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
“They offered him the head coach role and when he took on the position he offered me the full-time coaching job and I accepted the challenge.
“I have been fortunate to have learnt from some of the best coaches in the world during my travels.”
Much like Russia and the United States, which have also grown as forces in rugby sevens since it became an Olympic sport, China’s main priority in sport is success in the Olympics.
Their investment and support in the game has grown since it made its debut in Rio in 2016.
Mackintosh says the sevens system in China has delivered a high number of talented players and he believes with his coaching experience, he can take the country to the next level.
“The Olympics is everything for China and all their programmes are dominated by Olympic sports,” he said.
“If sevens wasn’t an Olympic sport, it wouldn’t have the backing it has had.
“When I arrived, I was surprised how many full-time athletes are involved in sevens under the university programmes and provincial programmes.
“That is where we look to pick the best players for the national team and I have been impressed with their professionalism as individuals.
“The biggest challenges during the early stages of working with the team were getting them to be comfortable with taking ownership of their own learning.
“I use a lot of discovery learning when I am coaching, this is very different from the way our athletes have previously been coached here. Thankfully they have really bought into this and seeing them grow as rugby players and people off the field has been extremely rewarding.”
Despite coaching around the world, Mackintosh admitted when he arrived in China it was a culture shock.
“I have never been shy in experiencing new cultures, I lived in France for four years as well as New Zealand and Australia,” he explained.
“But the difference in culture in China is more extreme than other countries.
“Looking at how meticulous China are at running every aspect of the Olympic programme has been an eye-opener.”
China will compete at the Tokyo Olympics as they won the Asian qualifying group after beating Hong Kong 33-0 in the final.
They will compete alongside the leading nations in the women’s sevens game including Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and the United States.
Despite going into next year’s tournament as one of the outsiders, they are still able to train full-time at present.
Mackintosh sees that as a major advantage in the run-up to the Olympics in July and in the 12-nation tournament, he has major ambitions of how far they can go.
“We are currently ranked 11th in the world, but we are one of the few teams still training full time together,” he said.
“It would become interesting about what our ranking would be if we were able to play tomorrow.
“A realistic goal based on ranking at the Olympics would be top eight, which would be the quarter finals.
“And if you get to the quarter final stage, anything can happen.”