Sir Gordon Tietjens: A Sevens Icon

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Sir Gordon Tietjens has pulled the curtain on his legendary Rugby Sevens coaching career. After 22 years as the leader of the sport where he has been hugely responsible for transforming the Sevens game in New Zealand, into what it is today.

The New Zealand (NZ) rugby announcement was predicted widely, but honestly no one wanted to see it confirmed. Rugby isn’t just a sport in NZ, it’s a way of life. The national team expected to win ‘all the time’ and when results don’t go as planned, heads often roll in the aftermath.

NZ fans have become to expect that their side would always perform–and that was in part wholly due to the input from Tietjens. So when recent performance saw the side not win the Sevens Series, or claim gold in the very first Olympic Games tournament, the surprise was widespread.

In most sports, failure to achieve sometimes entirely goes onto the head coach [see Stuart Lancaster] but this wasn’t the case for the coach of the All Black Sevens side. Respect was always built-in. Tietjens always delivered a team that almost always won, so the rugby public were very much forgiving.

Sir Gordon Tiejtjens was knighted in 2013, and entered into the World Rugby Hall of Fame while still an active coach in 2012. Refusing to be called Sir, Tietjens was the first active sevens coach to ever be inducted.

Thank you Sir Titch
Gordon Tietjens, Coach of New Zealand looks on during the pool match between New Zealand and Russia at the HSBC Paris Sevens at the Stade Jean Bouin on May 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The news today is sad, because there will never again be another coach like Tietjens. He is responsible for blooding some of New Zealand’s best rugby players. All who have played under Tietjens speak highly of his character and worth ethic.

Tietjens worked alongside many All Black greats in his time, including Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen. He established a strong relationship with Eric Rush, who led many of his teams for years and claimed multiple titles/medals over the most successful years of the team.

A Record Worth Marveling At For Generations

Tietjens took over the reigns back in 1994. At that time, rugby wasn’t a professional entity back in those days.  As a coach, Tietjens has led New Zealand to an amazing record in his 22-years.

New Zealand won four Commonwealth Games Gold Medals under Tietjens. On the HSBC Sevens Series circuit, New Zealand has been crowned series champions an incredible 12-times. On top of that, New Zealand won two Sevens Rugby World Cup titles: in 2001 and 2013.

Speaking to the media today, Tietjens revealed he had thought a lot about his decision to step aside after the Rio Olympics. Calling it ‘the right time, Tietjens thanked the countless players and management groups who had been so crucial to the teams success.

“I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for the support they’ve given me over the years. I want to especially acknowledge the management team and all the players who’ve contributed to the success of the New Zealand Sevens during the last 22 years”.

Rio Olympics Failure Should Not Matter

Honestly, lessons would have been learnt from Rio, but in no way should this leave any question over how marvelous Tietjens’ career was. Look at what he was able to do accomplish over his tenure–unparalleled success. What should matter to fans now is “who replaces Tietjens?” The possibilities are many.

New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew said that the now vacant coaching job is an “attractive opportunity”. There are five candidates that would love to take on the role. These include former players under Tietjens: Sean Horan (Women’s coach) Scott Waldron, DJ Forbes, Rush and Ben Ryan.

Not the least of these possible names suggested by Stuff.co.nz is former Fiji Sevens coach, Englishman Ben Ryan. Fresh off Olympics Gold Medal success, Ryan has a decent record against New Zealand. And of all the candidates, many would see him as the likely front runner.

There is much more to come on the candidacy and Olympic campaign analysis, but for now, this is a moment to remember and give thanks to a great man.

Sir Gordon Tietjens: A Sevens Icon

The softly spoken head coach of the New Zealand Sevens team has been at the helm for over 100 international tournaments. His longevity and contribution has brought a continuity that lifted the game to greater heights. His tenure and achievement in itself, may never be equaled.

To put it into perspective: Jim Bolger was Prime Minister of New Zealand, the internet had not yet become a mainstream service and some of the current All Black Sevens players hadn’t even been born when Tietjens became coach.

For that, dozens of players who cut their teeth under Tietjens have gone on to be some of the best players in the All Black jersey. Over 40 of them, and one man in particular is Beauden Barrett. Now widely regarded as the best first-five in World Rugby right now.

In all that time at the helm of the Sevens team, Tietjens hasn’t changed his ‘hard work first’ approach. A firm approach, built on fitness and player ability, a trait admired by others from when he first began as head coach. Perhaps this is the mark of the man.

He will forever be a legend of New Zealand Rugby. Thank you Sir Gordon, you will be missed.

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