Scotty Stevenson: Titch's halfway vigil sevens' great endurance act

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Sir Gordon Tietjens has refined the art of spotting talent. Picture / Getty Images
Sir Gordon Tietjens has refined the art of spotting talent. Picture / Getty Images

He has the best seat in the house. Always does. If you're looking for Sir Gordon Tietjens at the National Sevens you know where he will be: on a plastic chair, at halfway, five metres from the touchline.

He's been there every year I have been there, smeared in SPF 1000, wrap-around sunglasses covering his eagle eyes, nose blistered despite cosmetic manufacturing's best efforts, cap on. There have been some years when we have legitimately wondered whether he actually left for the night after day one, or just slept upright so as to be on hand when the first ball was kicked off on finals day.

He was there all weekend long in Rotorua but still we have no idea what he's looking for. Not for him the elevated position in the stands, or a seat in the media box; Tietjens does ground level only. He doesn't even break for lunch. He's the only man I know who can make a selection decision from the sideline while balancing a chicken salad on one knee and a notebook on the other.

That's the problem with Tietjens, even his midday meal is a nutrition lesson.

Maybe he can see the hurt better from where he sits, or feel the hits. Perhaps he does it just so he's the last thing the players see before they enter the field of play, or the first thing they see when they miss a tackle. Not that his face gives anything away. He only has one look. For all we know he could be sleeping off the chicken salad.

He would have seen plenty he liked on the weekend, and plenty to work with. In the hours that followed Counties-Manukau's first national title in 21 years he filled in the blanks on his squad sheet, and handed his list to the appropriate people. Now he paces his office waiting for a chance to get his mitts on them. In 10 days his team will run out on Westpac Stadium in the first World Series event of 2016. He's desperate for victory.

The team will have a new captain in Tim Mikkelson but that is all that is guaranteed. Sevens is a ruthless game, the ultimate reminder of that coming over the weekend when North Harbour were blown off the park in the national final. One bad pass, one lazy run, one missed tackle - those are the finest of lines in a sport that fashions itself as a festival while masking its true identity as an endurance event.

[Tietjens] would have seen plenty he liked on the weekend.

If anything, that is the most underestimated part of the game. It requires endurance to play a weekend of sevens. Fourteen minutes can feel like a lifetime when your body is screaming and the chase is on. Make a tackle, get up, make another, switch to attack, run a support line, repeat. Then repeat. Then repeat again. Maybe that's why Tietjens camps so close to the action; it is the only place he can truly see the strain, and genuinely gauge the willpower.

It may also be the only place he can sort through the chaos. At the heart of it all, sevens is a game that requires composure and vision. In Augustine Pulu, Tietjens has a man who has transitioned into the sevens game as a playmaking weapon. He stood on the sideline chatting to Tietjens after his first game on Saturday. By the last game on Sunday he was the best player at the tournament.

Where others panicked, Pulu effortlessly pulled the strings, creating holes, throwing great passes, taking on tiring defences. He may not be the fastest or strongest man in the game, but that matters not when you can see things others can't.

And that's what Tietjens has done for two decades: seen things others can't. That's why he sat on his plastic chair all weekend and watched each minute and every player on show and somehow divined from the field the very best of the bunch to run out next weekend in Wellington.

In a game that turns on moments, the greatest act of endurance at the national sevens may well have been performed by Sir Gordon Tietjens, the one man who witnessed them all.

- NZ Herald

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