Tietjens spells out recipe for Sevens success

(IRB.COM) Friday 25 May 2012
Tietjens spells out recipe for Sevens success
Staying power: Gordon Tietjens has coached New Zealand to all 109 IRB Sevens tournaments since the World Series began back in 1999

On the night of the HSBC Sevens World Series finale, the IRB honoured New Zealand's Sevens coach of 18 years Gordon Tietjens by inducting him into the IRB Hall of Fame.

New Zealand's 2011/12 World Series success was Tietjens' 10th and his roll of honour is without peer in Sevens, having also won a Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2001 and all four Commonwealth Games gold medals contested to date.

On receiving the accolade in front of his peers at Twickenham, Tietjens was almost lost for words.

"It's just really humbling and quite special really. I'm shocked to be recognised for my contribution to Sevens Rugby. I can only thank the players that have been a big part of my life, the players that have contributed to the successes in the game that I have had."

Tietjens' scouting and coaching formula is tried and tested and every Rugby Union in the world must wish they could glean just a little of his experience and knowledge.

In fact, when asked about his own philosophy on the game, not surprisingly the man from Tauranga was uncomplicated, forthcoming and organised in his thoughts. Indeed, there are four main qualities that Tietjens looks for when selecting talent, qualities that he believes combine to create a winning culture:

1. Team: Together everyone achieves more - "It's not about one person in our side. It's not about relying on those players with the X-factor. I have a favourite saying in my team and that is 'whoever plays will do the job'."

2. Unity: One big family - "We've probably got the fittest rugby players in New Zealand, they work harder than any rugby player in New Zealand and that unifies them. My training sessions are probably harder than any game they'll ever play and that's a real key to that unity as it brings us close."

3. Passion: Playing for the jersey - "We do enjoy ourselves but the jersey means everything and it's the fear of losing that is instilled into them as well."

4. Discipline: Cast-iron will - "I'm massively strict on nutrition. What you eat is what you are and if you want to play with the best in the world and be the best you can be, you have to have the right fuel. And the other part of having that discipline is a work ethic. I test them every time that they come into camp but, more importantly, they need to work hard in their own environments so that when they come to camp they're where they need to be.

"If you get those four qualities among the players you have, it creates that culture that's second to none," said Tietjens in an interview with Total Rugby.

A scout and a coach

In scouting his players Tietjens also looks for 'coach-ability' and character because to survive his gruelling regime the players need both. He is often forced to scour the country for its hidden wells of talent, which in turn leads to some interesting selections and a gilt-edged last-chance-saloon for certain players.

"If a player's got character he's that team player that you want, and he's coach-able. If they don't have that character they're very hard to coach and they're not necessarily the person you want.

"I'll see a player and like what I see in terms of his skill sets playing a game. I'll then do a lot of homework on that player, even going as far back as school sometimes and find out why he hasn't made certain teams. Because generally if they've got all that talent then they've gone on and made other teams and I'm not going to get a look at them anyway, so I tend to look at development teams and players who aren't necessarily recognised."

The physical demands of Rugby Sevens have always been tough, but are becoming more extreme than ever in the modern day game.

With fitness levels rising across the board, defences are tighter and the contest for the ball more ferocious. With that, the wide open spaces that used to be so abundant on a Sevens field seem almost to be shrinking with each passing season. And it is in this area - physical prowess and mental toughness - where Tietjens dedicates a lot of time and thought.

Cast iron will

"In the game of Sevens you've got to be mentally very, very strong. There are a lot of players out there who are gifted, talented but haven't got the work ethic and have gone away from Sevens because it's too tough for them. But there are those players who are mentally tough, incredibly fit and they are the ones who want to make it. And often they are also the ones who will go on and also become All Blacks."

And nobody can accuse Tietjens of not putting in the same level of effort himself.

"It's something that's always been part of me. If I see someone ahead of me going up the mountain at Mount Maunganui I've got to catch that person up, it's just in-bred. Or on a tennis court, it doesn't matter what I'm doing, in a gym I can't just get on a rower, I have to set some targets and blow myself out.

"And I think that makes it easier to coach because you get the respect of the players and I do all my hard yards in the mornings and I work very hard, so it's a lot easier for me to go and 'preach' because I practice what I preach."

A love affair with Sevens

Above all, it is clear that Tietjens still has a passion for the game of Rugby Sevens, even after 18 years as his country's head Sevens coach. His eyes still twinkle at the mention of certain tournaments, finals or players, or when asked about his latest scouting success.

"I love watching players in space expressing themselves. I remember back to Christian Cullen playing for me on a Sevens pitch, and he went on to become a wonderful All Black of course, but to see the step, the acceleration, the vision, the ball skills off both hands, everything you'd expect from a rugby player he could express in the game of Sevens.

"Christian was probably the most outstanding talent I saw. 18 tries in Hong Kong in his second year was incredible. Jonah (Lomu) nobody could match for the X-factor to win big tournaments and every time he went from the Sevens team to play for the All Blacks he played so well, because he was so fit."

When Tietjens took the job in 1994 he never thought he would stay beyond a four or five year stint. And yet he recently signed a new contract to lead New Zealand Sevens up until 2016, when the sport makes its Olympic debut.

"When Sevens was admitted to the Olympics I just thought that I have to be a part of that in some capacity, and so who would have thought I'd be at five Comm Games, including 2014 in Glasgow, and then the Olympics?

"And I think then I'll call it a day because that for me will be the pinnacle of a long coaching career, to finish it at the Olympics."

Video: Gordon Tietjens - Hall of Fame inductee # 49