Sir Gordon Tietjens, newly appointed Samoa sevens coach, will miss the first two world circuit tournaments in Dubai and South Africa - because he is still on 'gardening leave' from New Zealand Rugby.
Contacted to see how Samoa's preparation for the 2016-17 HSBC world rugby sevens series was progressing, Tietjens initally offered no comment apart from saying he could not attend the first two events in Dubai (December 2 and 3) and Cape Town (a week later). The series then takes a break before resuming in Wellington at the end of January.
Asked why, Tietjens eventually said: "I am still on contract to New Zealand Rugby and it runs through December, up to January. I guess you could say I am on gardening leave. I got a letter telling me about my contractural obligations."
So, in spite of all the reports saying first Tietjens had retired and then marking his appointment as Samoa coach, it seems his 22-year stint with New Zealand Rugby is not yet over.
"I did find it a bit hurtful, to be told I couldn't go to Samoa to coach and that I would effectively miss the first two tournaments - I thought maybe 22 years would count for something. There's an assistant coach in Samoa who will look after things until I can get there.
"I did offer to help with the New Zealand side some time ago - they still don't have a New Zealand coach appointed yet - but that doesn't seem to have come to anything; Dubai is only a few weeks away now."
New Zealand Rugby High Performance Manager Don Tricker said: "We've reached a confidential agreement with Sir Gordon so it's not really appropriate for us to comment further."
The preferred replacement is understood to be Scotland's Clark Laidlaw - but a contractural problem could be delaying matters there as well. Laidlaw, 38, is said to be highly regarded after a stint as Hurricanes assistant from 2014-15 and as skills coach for Tietjens' sevens team. However, Laidlaw is just months into the second season of a three-year deal with the London Irish club and would need to be released from that deal to take over.
Samoa rugby officials believe Tietjens, who led New Zealand to 12 world series titles and four Commonwealth Games gold medals, can transform sevens players and coaching there and establish a world-class development programme. Samoa finished ninth in the last world series and didn't qualify for the Olympics.
Tietjen's custodianship of the New Zealand team ended poorly when the Rio Olympic campaign saw the team beaten by Japan in pool play, with the gold medal favourites eventually finishing fifth. It provoked a storm of criticism, much of it aimed at Tietjens, even though NZR had prioritised the Wales test series against the All Blacks instead of the Olympics and put restrictive conditions on any Super Rugby players chosen.
Interviewed on Radio Live, asked about the recruitment of leading All Blacks to the sevens Olympic campaign, Tietjens said: "Seventy per cent of the players I had asked about came back as a yes but, within two or three weeks, a lot of those decisions were turned around and became a no."
He thought some players were influenced by other parties to change their decision: "You can always have speculation, you can have influence coming from different quarters, I don't know. A lot of those players were involved in Super Rugby at the time and a lot of them saw the opportunity to be part of the All Blacks."
He stood down after Rio, saying: "That was the pinnacle of my career. I was certainly going to consider retiring after then, win or lose. I had probably done my time and it was time for someone else to come through."
The first knight to come from sevens rugby and the first sevens coach to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame, Tietjens' ability to win international series even though denied many top players was legendary. His talent-spotting and selecting abilities saw All Blacks like Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Beauden Barrett, among others, cut their teeth in the abbreviated form of the game first.