Rugby: Tietjens' club takes dad's cup

By Peter White

The entertainment value of sevens was plain to see on Saturday when the best Bay of Plenty club players tried to catch the eye of selectors and win two trophies that were up for grabs for the first time.

The 10 teams in the senior men's division were competing for the newly minted Gordon Tietjens Cup, with women's sides vying to win the Exia Edwards Trophy.

After a gruelling day's action at the Eastern Districts club in Paeangaroa, Te Puna took out the men's final by 22-5 over Mount Maunganui and Opotiki just pipped Waikato University in the women's final 10-7.

It was apt that Te Puna should win as they were coached by Paul Tietjens, who has been named as Thames Valley provincial sevens coach and is the son of national sevens coach Gordon.

Te Puna were captained by Marty Stevenson up front, with Otumoetai College student Billy Carter putting in a solid tournament performance.

It was also fitting that for the first year Opotiki won the Exia Edwards Trophy as Exia is from Opotiki and Noi Kurei, who is a good friend of Exia, scored the last-minute try to seal the win.

The tournament was a huge success on all levels, with a high standard of play evident throughout the day's play and a larger-than-expected turnout of spectators.

Te Puke club Rangiuru were the surprise package, making it to the main semifinal before Mount Maunganui, under the guidance of former NZ sevens stars in captain Zar Lawrence and coach Brad Flemming stopped their dream run to the final.

Teams were allowed to have two imports in their teams but Rangiuru decided to go with their own home-grown talent and that turned out to be a smart move.

Club stalwart and former Steamers halfback Mark Basham was not surprised with how well Rangiuru did as he knows how much work has gone in from the players and coaches to get the team in such good condition for the tournament. "I wouldn't say we overachieved as we rated ourselves a chance to get to the semifinal, but we are pretty stoked with how we went," Basham said.

"It is just our own boys we are using and some of them are only 17 and four are students so they did really well.

"We have a new field and new changing rooms at the club so things are on the up and looking really good. We are still in division one but won 19 games in a row this year, and now we have a girls' team playing sevens.

"Sevens is hugely important to our whole rugby programme. In fact, I think it is a big part of the players' success because it keeps them motivated and keeps them going."

Perhaps the most important eyes watching the action belonged to Tietjens snr.

The Tauranga resident has reigned supreme as NZ sevens coach for longer than he would like to remember but he had a glint in his eye when he talked about the surging popularity of sevens, especially with the buzz created locally, nationally and worldwide with the sport to be showcased at the 2016 Olympics. "I know if I was young I would be looking at sevens positively," Tietjens said.

"We have had a name change to the All Blacks Sevens and there will be possibly lots of youngsters who could have dreams or aspirations to be a Sevens All Black, and not really get into the game of XVs so much.

"There are so many players who will always be on the fringe of Super Rugby, and may play ITM Cup, but that is as far as they will go. They could be fulltime sevens players and that is now a realistic possibility for any youngster coming through."

The depth of talent on display and enthusiasm for sevens from clubs right across Bay of Plenty impressed Tietjens.

"What has been really encouraging from my perspective is to see teams like Rangiuru, Paroa (Whakatane) and St Michaels who are not in the elite division of their respective club competitions, and yet here they are putting out sevens teams with a lot of young guys.

"That is when they start coming through the club and if you can look after those younger players that are keen now and want to get into the game of sevens, as well as having aspirations to get into their club's premier side, that's what we want to see here in Bay of Plenty.

"I am quite astounded at seeing the level of support this tournament has got with so many people here, and there is a lot of good rugby, but it is providing opportunities for the younger players, which is exciting from my perspective."

Tietjens said any player who was going to potentially make the New Zealand team had to really stand out at tournaments like Saturday's spectacular.

"They have to have people saying, 'Who's that guy'? That is what I have seen today and that is also exciting from my perspective. They have to have so much more class than others."

Tietjens travels around the top half of the North Island regularly to check new talent emerging and he is pleased to see how well the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union is driving the game's development.

"I think the Bay has done really well. The union has got in behind Sevens and there is another big weekend coming next week at Blake Park (the Emirates Sevens Festival). The Bay has a great sevens record, even though we have never won the national tournament, but a lot of players have gone on to play for New Zealand. I live here which means for a lot of young players they are living in the right town if they want to impress me."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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