Rio Olympics 2016: Where to now for Sir Gordon Tietjens?

By Michael Brown

Gordon Tietjens after the defeat to Japan on the opening day of the sevens tournament. Photo / photosport.nz
Gordon Tietjens after the defeat to Japan on the opening day of the sevens tournament. Photo / photosport.nz

The fact he has Sir ahead of his name suggests Gordon Tietjens has achieved a fair amount in his long career but it counted little this morning.

Tietjens was reluctant to talk about his future in the aftermath of his side's 12-7 quarter-final defeat to Fiji at the Rio Olympics but it's hard to see him continuing on in a role he took on in 1994. Not only would it seem time for fresh ideas but it's understood there's also been some conflict with New Zealand Rugby. There have also been rumours of a fractured sevens environment.

Tietjen's contract is up and 22 years is a long time in one job. It's likely he will be judged on his side's showing in Rio, even though he achieved unparalleled success in the game and helped legitimise sevens as a sport. According to then-World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset, sevens' inclusion in the Olympics was "in no small way down to Gordon Tietjens".

The 60-year-old is a veteran of well over 100 international sevens tournaments, steering the team to four Commonwealth Games gold medals, 11 World Series Sevens titles and two IRB Sevens World Championship titles (2001 in Argentina and 2013 in Russia), and helped launch the careers of a number of players who became very good All Blacks.

In 2012, he was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame, the first sevens coach to receive the honour, and a year later was knighted for his services to the game.

But his side have come under considerable pressure since sevens was added to the Olympics programme for the Rio Games and countries committed to sevens. It has seen the emergence of the likes of the United States, Kenya and now Japan, who will play in tomorrow morning's semifinals.

"You have to eat, breathe and sleep it because with our players scattered around the country, it makes this so, so difficult," Tietjens said after the defeat to Fiji. "Other countries specialise, and that's why they've caught up."

It didn't help that NZR appeared unwilling to commit all of their resources to winning gold or that there was a lack of All Blacks in a team dubbed the All Blacks Sevens with only Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam committed to the full sevens programme. Akira and Reiko Ioane and Augustine Pulu joined later after playing some Super Rugby and Ardie Savea withdrew to concentrate on XVs.

But the portents weren't great, with New Zealand finishing third behind Fiji and South Africa in this year's World Sevens Series. They won three tournaments but struggled in the last three in the leadup to Rio.

Still, few would have expected them to be beaten by Japan in their first game and then win only one of their three pool games.

Tietjens was famed for his tough training sessions, almost taking pleasure from the pain the players suffered. One particular drill felt like death so the players named it Death.

Many have been intensely loyal to him over the years but others have been critical of him, and Kurt Baker said after missing selection for the Olympic squad he felt "used" by Tietjens and that some higher profile players didn't want to commit to the programme because they didn't feel comfortable in the sevens environment.

Tietjens' love for sevens developed more than 30 years ago and he was a member of the first New Zealand sevens side at the 1983 Hong Kong Sevens.

If this morning's game was Tietjens' last in charge of New Zealand, it was an inglorious way to go out.

- NZ Herald

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