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Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Rugby sevens legend receives knighthood

Sir Gordon Tietjens and Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae
Sir Gordon Tietjens and Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae

Rugby sevens legend Sir Gordon Tietjens says he's taken a bit of ribbing over his knighthood, but he'll always be known simply as Titch.

The longtime All Blacks Sevens coach was knighted by Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae at an investiture ceremony at Government House in Wellington this morning.

He was among a handful of prominent New Zealanders to receive honours today, including the late Supreme Court Justice Sir Robert Chambers, whose knighthood was accepted posthumously by his widow Lady Deborah.

Sir Gordon said he had taken "quite a bit of ribbing" from the All Blacks Sevens when his knighthood was first announced, but it was all in good taste.

"It's a great culture we have in the sevens team, and that's certainly one of the key ingredients of why we've done so well over the years."

And despite the honour, he won't be ditching the nickname he's affectionately known by.

"It's still Titch, no doubt. I'll always be known as Titch from the players and most people, so nothing will really change.

"But it is special and to me - being knighted as a sir is a real reward for sevens rugby and the way that it's climbing up in the global scene."

Sir Gordon said he was both proud and humbled by his knighthood, which he owed to his family, friends, players and his management team.

"The support they've given me - unbelievable, tremendous."

It was also unbelievable to still be coaching after 20 years, he said.

"For coaches to be around that long is not seen often."

Sir Gordon said he still had a passion for sevens and he wanted to be part of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 - the first year rugby sevens debuts as an Olympic sport.

"That's my drive, and also my main drive of course is trying to find some new, younger players that can launch their rugby careers."

Also among the honours recipients were police search and rescue staff who helped to identify the victims of some of the most heartbreaking tragedies in New Zealand and beyond.

Senior Constable Phil Simmonds, who was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, helped to recover bodies from the Carterton balloon crash, the CTV building in Christchurch and the Fox Glacier skydiving plane crash.

He said he coped with the work by staying focused on identifying victims so they could be returned to their families.

"It's never bothered me - everyone's built differently, I suppose, and I just must be of the ilk that I can manage it."

Sergeant Dene Duthie, an Auckland-based member of the police disaster victim identification team, was also made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He said it was the first time so many disaster victim identification staff had been honoured at the same time.

Mr Duthie agreed his work - which included the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, the 2009 Queensland bush fires, the Pike River mine disaster, and running the morgue after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake - was difficult.

"But very rewarding in the sense that you're doing a job for the families. You're bringing their loved ones homes for them."

The tsunami was his hardest job to date, but Christchurch was also difficult because it was here in New Zealand.

"But we had a very good team down there, and got a hard job done exceptionally well and exceptionally quickly."

- APNZ

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