Tony Veitch: What went wrong with the All Blacks Sevens

By Tony Veitch

New Zealand sevens players look dejected after a loss at the Olympics. Photo / Getty
New Zealand sevens players look dejected after a loss at the Olympics. Photo / Getty

Cue the finger pointing and outrage over the New Zealand sevens campaign in Rio after three losses from six matches, including one to Japan.

We are very good at the blame game in New Zealand. In 1999, it was John Hart. In 2007, it was Graham Henry. In 2016, it is the big, bad ogres at New Zealand Rugby - those money hungry swines who only care only about the All Blacks brand.

There were accusations they didn't do enough to support the campaign along with rumours the All Blacks shoulder-tapped players not to make themselves available.

Hopefully I can provide some balance and, God forbid, a few facts.

Over the past few days I've spoken with a number of parties who had influence and inside knowledge of what went wrong, from players to administrators and those with strong links to the All Blacks.

Key points to come out of those conversations:

- Coach Gordon Tietjens made a major tactical blunder by over-training them leading into Rio. By the time the first game against Japan arrived, this side looked lethargic and slow.

- After that Japanese defeat, Tietjens made the very interesting call, "they never got up for the match". It was a telling comment. The biggest tournament of their lives and players weren't up for it? How is that possible?

- It's understood Tietjens lost the confidence of his players. According to two of my sources, that can be traced back well over a year. It was Tietjens' way or the highway and, while that approach brought glorious success in the past, the game changed once sevens became an Olympic sport and New Zealand didn't.

- There is some frustration from those All Blacks who turned down the Olympics, after questions have again been raised around their commitment to the Olympics. But you players can't be forced to do something they don't want to. And money was not a factor.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated by the Players' Association, any All Black who committed to sevens would not have lost out on their All Blacks contract.

Sir Gordon Tietjens has been a wonderful servant for New Zealand rugby but, as someone said to me on Friday, "maybe he over-stayed one year too long".

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says there needs to be a full review of the sevens campaign. Good luck with that one because, as far as I can see, there has been no succession planning beyond Rio. A team who were a lock-in for a medal two years ago now look forced to go back to square one.

The All Black Sevens: No big deal

There were many who claimed the All Blacks brand was being damaged on the world stage with headlines likes this one in the UK: "Japan beats the All Blacks". Suddenly our most powerful sporting identity is the laughing stock on the world stage and sponsors of our world champions XVs side will be hurriedly accessing the Brazilian mobile of CEO Steve Tew in Rio to voice their concerns.

This is not the look we want. Imagine fans in Turkey, Uzbekistan and Sweden believing the might of world rugby has been dethroned.

I'm not a massive fan of the All Black Sevens as a name or brand. But the over-reaction this week to the belief their early exit will damage New Zealand globally is bizarre. If those fans in Turkey or Sweden actually cared enough to check the result, it wouldn't take too long to find they are not same teams or even the same sports.

Too often Kiwis worry about what the rest of the world thinks about us. Take the comments of British comedian and late show host, James Corden, who tweeted he found New Zealand a "tad" boring. That made headlines here, forcing Corden to reply tongue in cheek that we're actually OK. Phew! I can still call myself a proud Kiwi.

So what if a few uneducated sports fans from a land far, far away think the All Blacks lost to Japan? In a couple of weeks there will be just a few truly international stars and stories to hold the memories of sporting fans. Michael Phelps will be one, Usain Bolt another, the dodgy Russians will be an unwanted legacy, but the All Blacks Sevens will not be top of mind. So let's just all chill out.

The Olympics: Totally Flawed

Athletes who have worked all their lives to star on the world stage are competing in front of no one. Just 500 turned up to the opening day of boxing and the women's sevens final was played in front of a truck-load of empty seats.

Maybe for the first time in Olympic history, pre-Games predictions have been on the money. The Olympic model is broken, the daily protests on the streets tell us that, but where are the serious long-term solutions?

Countries are running away as fast as they can from hosting the Winter Games. The security budget alone would blow most sane nations out of the water.

Ratings in the US for week one of the Rio Games are significantly down, which is sad for the most successful Olympic country on the planet. Maybe that's because some of us feel some guilt watching the action in these enormous stadiums, knowing the net cost to this third-world nation.

This is not how it should be. Even non-sporting fans should feel a bond with the Summer Games because it's part of our national pride and identity.

I initially saw hope in Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, but he lost my confidence after his atrocious and limp handling of the Russian drugs scandal. Bach has talked about his vision of "user-friendly Games" for the future by cutting costs, using existing facilities and making the Olympics an event that won't send an entire nations broke. But is that truly realistic? The only solution I see is to put the Olympics on rotation among five or six major cities where the only new expenses would be the athletes' accommodation and some upgrades to existing venues. Something must change, because right now I feel almost guilty watching our Kiwi team chase medals when Rio is being dropped to its knees financially.

Showdown of the week

Wasn't it refreshing to hear athletes speak their minds over drugs cheats? Aussie Mack Horton set the tone, launching a scathing attack on Chinese silver medallist Sun Yang who had been banned in the past for drug taking. Chinese fans on social media promised Horton "a quick death" and the Chinese delegation demanded an apology. The Aussies politely declined.

No doubt Horton was the catalyst for other athletes to let rip. French swimmer Camille Lacourt followed up by claiming Yang "pisses purple" and US gold medallist Lilly King, who said fellow American and former 100m Olympic champion Justin Gatlin shouldn't be allowed to compete in Rio after serving two doping bans. Brilliant!

There was always going to be niggle at these Games after the IOC showed how gutless they were when it came to making the tough decisions. Now we have athletes prepared to do the dirty work, and that may be one of the few positive legacy's of these Olympics.


Can you imagine Michael Phelps' pool room? No sock draw in the world would surely be able handle the weight of all of his medals. The guy clearly has had some out of pool issues, namely being set up by a 'mate' when he was smoking a bong.

He's a freak and, by all accounts, a good guy to boot. I hear the argument that swimming gives out too many medals but for the past five Olympics Phelps has been a rock star. We used to talk about Jonah Lomu engaging an audience well beyond rugby. Well, Phelps does exactly the same for swimming. My athlete of 2016.

The Jarryd Hayne Effect

I thought the whole Fiji experiment was a complete embarrassment to not only Jarryd Hayne but also Fiji sevens. But now he's back playing the game he's owned in the past and I have to say I'm loving it. He was sensational against the Warriors last weekend - I reckon he played four positions that night. We talk about players who can put bums on seats. He's already paying back the $1.2 million salary the Titans are paying at Usain Bolt-like speed. Within 48 hours of Hayne signing, five new major sponsors had made contact with the Titans wanting in on the Hayne circus. Just like SBW, love them or hate them, there are players who have the Midas touch when it comes to publicity and interest.

- NZ Herald

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