By Stuart Whitaker
There's a new name in the coach's seat at Te Puke Sports, with Paul Tietjens taking over the role during the summer.
Son of sevens coaching legend Sir Gordon Tietjens, Paul is looking to expand his coaching experience after focusing largely, like his father, on the shortened version of the game.
Paul played sevens for Bay of Plenty and Manawatu and also coached the Bay's men's team.
''I finished with the Bay of Plenty sevens team at the start of 2018 and then I moved on to the Samoan men's sevens team where I was the strength and conditioning trainer and skills coach [with dad Gordon head coach],'' he says.
''Then I moved on to the Papua New Guinea head coaching role with their women's team, which I am still with, but obviously, with Covid, they shut things down.''
He says he saw the Te Puke Sports role as a way of enhancing his coaching.
After being appointed mid-November, he started working with the team in December.
Although he was still playing 15-a-side rugby last season, he won't be taking the field in Pirates colours.
''Initially, I played for the Mount when growing up and I played a few seasons for Kahukura, but this is solely coaching.''
He says from his playing and coaching, he already knew the club's strengths.
''It's always been a very experienced and successful club with what they do, and they are very supportive, being in a small-town community like Te Puke is.''
These were all factors in his decision to apply.
''Being a successful club, it's a good challenge to maintain that level of success. You know that they've got good support behind them since they are so successful and culture's a massive ingredient as well. To be successful you've got to have a good culture.
There is a unified group and that's been a massive focus for me and a key ingredient to me moving for the club.''
Paul says the club has always had a lot of strong players and that has been reflected in the number of provincial and higher representatives the club has produced.
The downside is that players move on, and that has been the case over the close season with backs Dan Hollinshead, Cole Forbes, Jason Robertson and Declan Barnett all now playing overseas, and Luke Campbell playing for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
''A couple of those guys played in my sevens side and Luke Campbell played under me in my last year.''
The losses have taken with them a huge chunk of experience.
''A couple of knee injuries at the end of last season didn't help our cause either, but in terms of our forward pack, there's a lot of experience there and there is still some experience within our backline. Luther Hirini is one of my leaders and Dan's brother Jack has played representative footy, so there's definitely still some experience and it's a good challenge to bring those younger and fresh talents through.''
Te Puke last won the Baywide title in 2018 and that is once again the goal.
''A club like Te Puke is always there or thereabouts. They are always in that top four-top six come the business end of the season.
''We've definitely got the framework and the structure and the depth within the club and if they play to their potential, can certainly go very very close, but at the same time, it's a competition that you have to take week by week and you have to build strong depth within the club because you're gong to have injuries and players unavailable, so you need players stepping up.''
The club has had two pre-season games, away to Fraser Tech and home against Thames.
''[At Fraser Tech] we took a mixed combination of development and prem players across there, as some players were unavailable that day, and we definitely showed some promise in that game. Then we played Thames and again it was a patchy performance, but we came away with the win.
''[Thames] were a very strong team and there are a lot of players based in Auckland playing for that club, so it was definitely a good challenging hit-out for our final pre-season game of the year.''
While Paul has plenty of experience of the Tauranga-Mount Battle of the Bridge, the Te Puke-Rangiuru derby will be new. The clubs will face off on June 5 at Centennial Park.
''I've heard about them and read about them over time. Rangiuru are a very proud and strong traditional club and they had a great season last year and made the semi-final and were unlucky not to make the final. Coaches Tanerau Latimer and Deon Muir are building some depth and doing some great things so that match-up will certainly be a battle of the town and definitely will draw a big crowd.''
Te Puke Sports opens its Baywide campaign with an away game at Rangataua on Saturday. The clubs' development sides meet at 1pm with the premier sides' game kicking off at 2.45pm.
■ With an odd number of teams in the Baywide premier and development competitions, Rangiuru start their season hosting Ngongotahā in round 2. In next week's edition we will preview Rangiuru's season.