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England captain Ollie Phillips celebrates beating New Zealand in the IRB Sevens World Series final rugby match in Wellington in February, 2009. Photo: Reuters

China turn to ex-England rugby sevens star Ollie Phillips, with new coach targeting Asian Games gold, 2024 Olympics spot

  • Phillips says he is hoping to awaken ‘a sleeping giant of 1.4 billion people’ as he takes on head coaching role for Chinese national team
  • The former World Player of the Year will have former England stars Dan Norton and Tom Briggs as assistant coaches

China have turned to ex-England sevens captain Ollie Phillips to help them become a force in the world game, with the new head coach saying he was ready to “awaken a sleeping giant of 1.4 billion people”.

Phillips said he was “delighted” to be taking on the role and already set his sights on winning gold at next year’s Asian Games and qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The 38-year-old has been working with the Chinese Rugby Football Association in the UK, with the China sevens team playing against the likes of Jamaica, Wales, Canada and Fiji in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games.

Hong Kong Sevens could be ‘catalyst’ for return of other sporting events

“I have always wanted to explore and develop my coaching ability and the chance to coach one of the largest and most populated countries in the world was too good an opportunity to turn down,” he wrote in a social media post.

“The challenge is a big one, but success could mean qualification for the Paris Olympics and a gold medal at the Asian Games.”

Writing in a column for London-based newspaper City AM, Phillips, who will have former England pair Dan Norton – the leading all-time try scorer in sevens – and Tom Briggs to join him as assistant coaches, said he was excited to see what the trio could achieve.

“I’ve spent a lot of my life involved in rugby sevens but I haven’t taken on many challenges as big as the one I have just embarked on with China,” he wrote.

“I am heading up the coaching team for China’s sevens programme, and will be heading out there shortly for the next few months.”

England’s Dan Norton (right) runs away to score against Kenya on the first day of the Rugby Sevens tournament in Cape Town in December 2018. Photo: AFP

Phillips said the three coaches would be looking to “maximise the potential of the playing pool” already available to them, as well as looking to unearth new talent as they target Olympic qualification.

“To do that [qualify for Paris 2024] we will need to put on a strong showing in the Asian Series in October and November later this year, alongside the delayed Asian Games next year.

“Ideally, we would want to progress onto World Rugby’s second-tier Sevens Challenger Series and then the World Series, perhaps playing at events like the London and Hong Kong Sevens.”

Phillips though will have to wait to see how his charges stack up against the other second-tier teams, with China’s men not playing at the Challenger Series tournament in Chile this month.

Team GB to replace England, Scotland and Wales on Sevens Series

While China’s new head coach is under no illusions as to the task that lies ahead, Phillips said he was optimistic and pointed to Hong Kong as an example of what could be achieved.

“You only have to look at the progress of other Asian nations: Hong Kong in the 2023 Rugby World Cup repechage, South Korea improving too, and Japan going from strength to strength at the top level.

“The continent clearly has the potential. We just need to awaken a sleeping giant of 1.4 billion people.”