Sevens: Tietjens has faith in new side

By Peter White

The second leg of the IRB Sevens World Series begins in Dubai on November 30, giving coach Gordon Tietjens only a small window to get the All Blacks Sevens team into top class condition.

But the master Sevens coach is used to this situation and thrives on the challenge of producing the world's best team every year, despite going up against the Fijians with their distinct advantage of playing a game all year round that is a national religion.

Tietjens was impressed with the fitness levels shown by the training squad based at Mount Maunganui this week and will announce his squad for the rest of the World Series in Tauranga tomorrow.

"The biggest challenge is to get the guys up to standard," Tietjens said.

"To be good at this game you have to be training and playing it, and we don't have enough of it.

"They have all just come out of ITM Cup and missed out on Super 15 selection, so all of a sudden Sevens has become their only pathway to remain at that competitive level of rugby.

"So for two weeks they have had heaps of Sevens specific conditioning and specific training before they came to this camp.

"Remember teams in Fiji, in particular, play every week and they have got thousands of them. It is unbelievable. That is what we are up against in conditioning levels but I have seen enough today to think we can have a very good side."

When it comes to conditioning, the All Blacks Sevens team could not be in better or more experienced hands. Mark Harvey has joined the management after eight years as head trainer at the Blues and a 21-year career in the Navy.

If you are thinking old school training then you are right and Tietjens is delighted to have Harvey on board full time.

"The players I believe have come into this camp in probably better shape than I thought initially and that is through Mark Harvey. He has really worked them, pushes them really hard and has challenged them. I am very impressed with all the testing results that have come in so far so he has done really well."

One player who found out firsthand yesterday what old school metabolic training is like was Bay of Plenty winger Jack Wilson.

Wilson tweaked a hamstring so was on light duties that included boxing, reflex training, stretching, and Harvey's lizard walk, which is not for the feint hearted.

One member of the management team quipped "you don't want to get injured in this team, it's tougher than the full-on training".

But there were no complaints from Wilson, who would dearly love to make Tietjens' team tomorrow.

Next stop Dubai has its own unique character on the World Series circuit but for Tietjens it does not matter where they play as the fundamentals are the same everywhere they go.

"The biggest challenge for us is not only the travel factor but also getting the fitness levels right. If we can leave here in really good shape and do all the hard yards in New Zealand, then once we get over the travel we can start gelling as a team.

"That is the biggest key, the character of the side, pulling the team together and playing for each other.

"I am lucky I have a nucleus of players here who have been part of the side going to Dubai for the last five years and know what to expect. They are the players like DJ Forbes, Tim Mickelson, Lote Raikabula and Tomasi Cama that guide the younger players when they are going on big trips like that.

"They are hugely important to us. I found it really difficult on our trip to Australia as I had seven new faces, so it was really, really tough and the senior guys had to shoulder a huge amount of work going into that first tournament."

The excitement and buzz surrounding Sevens after being named an Olympic sport at the 2016 Rio games continues to flow over to the regional tournaments Tietjens has been to over the last month, including the highly successful Bay of Plenty club tournament won by Te Puna.

He says the game is getting bigger and growing in stature. "The crowds are getting bigger too and I still have the same passion for it. It is quite nerve racking when you go into a Comms Games, and certainly it will be at the Olympic Games, but one step at a time.

"This year our main emphasis is doing well in the World Series with the goal of winning that World Cup."

Wilson may have been the only Bay of Plenty representative at this week's training camp but Tietjens says the Sevens game is in good heart in the Bay and only injury prevented more players from being selected.

"The last couple of weeks I thought Sevens rugby is on the right track. We have been a great Sevens province over the years and we are looking certainly to get better at it.

"Every team has a little bit of a lull, where they are looking to build players, and they are building a base right now.

"Toby Arnold would be in the side but he is injured, as is Jason Hona who has played for New Zealand, and Solomon King is coming back to play for the Bay, I understand. So they will have a particularly strong side when they all get together and back on the track."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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