Cantabri­ans Abroad /

Jeff McIn­tyre never made the Burn­side High First XV, but he’s helped an Ari­zona rugby club take a Hol­ly­wood-style leap to cham­pi­onship suc­cess.

Latitude Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS Craig Sis­ter­son

Har­ness­ing en­ergy with coach Jeff McIn­tyre

It’s a Satur­day morn­ing. The sun beats down from a cloud­less Ari­zona sky. The cal­en­dar reads win­ter, but it’s warmer here than the sum­mer back in Christchur­ch. Shouts ring out from field and side­line as a ball spi­rals be­tween play­ers, as bod­ies col­lide, as teams bat­tle for supremacy. Jeff McIn­tyre looks on as a kid in red and black catches the ball, brushes aside a would-be tack­ler, and gal­lops away 10 yards, 20 yards, 30 yards, to score. Yards, not me­tres. This is Amer­ica. Amer­i­can kids on an Amer­i­can field.

But this is not Amer­i­can foot­ball. It’s rugby.

A Burn­side High School old boy, Jeff re­flects fondly on his Can­ter­bury child­hood, on get­ting to grow up in ‘a mas­sive play­ground of out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties that are just at your fin­ger­tips’. But rugby was Jeff ’s main sport as a kid. ‘I wasn’t any­thing su­per flash,’ he says. ‘I make that point to the boys I coach here – I wasn’t on the First XV.’

Now in his fifties, Jeff has lived in Ari­zona since 2006, work­ing for him­self as a fi­nancier, help­ing raise cap­i­tal for in­vest­ments in en­ergy projects and green tech­nolo­gies. He scratches his rugby itch as both a qual­i­fied ref­eree (high school, col­lege, and men’s rugby), and the Team Man­ager and As­sis­tant Backs Coach for Red Moun­tain Youth Rugby in Phoenix.

Like back home, it’s an­other dom­i­nant team in red and black. ‘We have five teams now: Un­der 10s, Un­der 12s, Un­der 14s (which is ju­nior high school), an Un­der 16 team, and a se­nior team which is like a First XV,’ says Jeff. ‘We play in all those di­vi­sions, and we’ve been state cham­pi­ons for seven years. We’re the only team in Ari­zona that gets in­vited to na­tional tour­na­ments. It’s been ex­cit­ing.’ Not that it be­gan that way.

In fact, the jour­ney from when Jeff first be­came in­volved (soon after ar­riv­ing in Ari­zona) with what was then the Mesa Knights youth team, to what they’ve be­come, sounds like some­thing out of a Hol­ly­wood sports film: a rag­tag bunch play­ing for the love of the game while barely field­ing a team, even­tu­ally grow­ing into peren­nial state cham­pi­ons.

‘I met a Māori guy, Varen Ber­ry­man, who’d mar­ried an Amer­i­can, been at the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii, and had these three Māori boys who’d been born and raised in Amer­ica,’ re­calls Jeff. ‘They wanted to play rugby, and formed the nu­cleus of this youth rugby team. Varen coached and said come on down, and I did. It was sort of small and strug­gling. We were lucky if 15 boys showed up on a Satur­day for a game of footie. We had these scruffy jer­seys spon­sored by a lo­cal restau­rant owned by a Ton­gan guy. It just slowly grew from there.’

Nowa­days the head coach for Red Moun­tain Youth Rugby is OJ Hawea, an­other Māori liv­ing in Ari­zona.

OJ’s fa­ther was a Waikato Rugby Union of­fi­cial and OJ has helped grow touch rugby mas­sively as a sport in the United States; he’s now Pres­i­dent of the USA Touch Rugby As­so­ci­a­tion and coached the na­tional men’s team at last year’s World Cup in Malaysia.

When he’s not help­ing OJ coach at Red Moun­tain Youth Rugby, or ref­er­ee­ing a va­ri­ety of age grades, Jeff spends his days work­ing at the nexus be­tween the oil and gas in­dus­try and green tech­nol­ogy. ‘It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing in­dus­try,’ says Jeff. ‘It gets bad press, but those of us who work in the in­dus­try know

that the world still runs on oil… The re­al­ity is if we want to go to a car­bon-free fu­ture very quickly, then we’d have to go back to the 19th cen­tury in terms of stan­dards of liv­ing be­cause so much of com­merce, trans­porta­tion, and our way of life is de­pen­dent on fos­sil fu­els. But that will change over time with new tech­nol­ogy.’

Un­for­tu­nately, the tech­nol­ogy be­hind ‘sexy’ al­ter­na­tives is nowhere near ready to re­place fos­sil fu­els, says Jeff.

‘Guess how much to­tal global en­ergy us­age is gen­er­ated by re­new­able sources like wind and so­lar,’ he prods. ‘It’s gone from around 1.7 per cent to 2.6 per cent in the past 15 years.’ Sim­i­larly, elec­tric cars are not yet a panacea. Jeff notes their life­time car­bon matches petrol ve­hi­cles, due to the way elec­tric­ity is gen­er­ated in many coun­tries. There are also huge en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns with the ex­trac­tion of rare met­als used in the bat­ter­ies.

Jeff calls him­self a ‘prac­ti­cal re­al­ist’. Over the past 13 years he’s been in­volved in sev­eral projects to help fi­nance the re­search, de­vel­op­ment, and even­tual im­ple­men­ta­tion of green tech­nolo­gies to make a real dif­fer­ence within and along­side the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try, rather than shun­ning it. These in­clude a zero-power in­jec­tor to con­vert diesel trucks to CNG (a cheaper and cleaner burn­ing fuel) with­out los­ing any power, and minia­ture re­finer­ies to cleanse dirty gas on­site at re­mote frack­ing wells rather than flar­ing it off into the at­mos­phere.

The rugby field gives Jeff a break from work­ing hard to put to­gether com­plex multi-mil­lion-dol­lar deals in­volv­ing cut­tingedge tech­nol­ogy. Along with the leap in on-field re­sults, over the years he’s also no­ticed a change in the way lo­cal high school foot­ball coaches view rugby – played dur­ing the foot­ball off­sea­son – and the in­volve­ment of their own stars. Ini­tially re­luc­tant, wor­ried about their boys get­ting banged up, now coaches are more sup­port­ive.

‘There’s a sort of tacit ac­cep­tance that rugby is not as dan­ger­ous as foot­ball, that the boys come away from rugby very fit and bet­ter tack­lers,’ says Jeff, who then adds a ‘lit­tle se­cret’ he’s learned from years of coach­ing hun­dreds of kids who play both Amer­i­can foot­ball and rugby. ‘They all pre­fer rugby. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, they still love foot­ball, it’s the main event, glam­orous and where the money is, but the rea­son why they love rugby is they all get to touch the ball, the post-game adren­a­line rush is more in­tense be­cause they’re on the field for longer, and they love the fact they make the de­ci­sions on the field as to what they do. Whereas high school foot­ball is very struc­tured – you are lit­er­ally a wid­get in a big ma­chine.’

The Amer­i­can kids also love the ca­ma­raderie of rugby, says Jeff, along with the in­for­mal­ity of the Kiwi coaches. ‘There’s lots of love. We have a team spirit the boys really take to. I go to these boys’ wed­dings, we run into each other 10 years later, I give them a big hug and we rem­i­nisce. It be­comes an im­por­tant chap­ter of their life, and we’re proud that we’ve built it.’

The Amer­i­can kids love the ca­ma­raderie of rugby, says Jeff, along with the in­for­mal­ity of the Kiwi coaches.

High school rugby has flour­ished in Ari­zona in the past 15 years, with Red Moun­tain Youth Rugby scoop­ing sev­eral cham­pi­onships.

TOP / When Jeff be­gan coach­ing they could barely as­sem­ble a team, now they have big squads in mul­ti­ple age grades.

ABOVE / Along with coach­ing, Jeff gives his time as a ref­eree for rugby and touch rugby. OP­PO­SITE / Jeff's 'day job' in­volves rais­ing cap­i­tal for green tech­nolo­gies in the en­ergy in­dus­try.

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