Tietjens motivated to build depth
As far as CVs go in the world of rugby sevens, Sir Gordon Tietjens' sits top of the pile. There is no head coach out there with more experience of the game.
When Tietjens took over as head coach of New Zealand in 1994, he was every team role you see today bundled up into one: conditioning coach, nutritionist, team manager. The lot. However back in September, after 22 years at the helm, the 61-year-old announced his retirement as New Zealand head coach. An illustrious stint had ended.
Six weeks later, Tietjens' name was once more being published in sports media across the globe when it was officially announced that he would be joining Samoa as head coach.
Not many saw it coming and as Tietjens prepares to take charge for the first time at this weekend's HSBC Wellington Sevens, he admits he has got a new motivation and love for the game.
"It’s a big challenge being back in Wellington," he said. "I suppose if you look back to when I stepped down from the New Zealand team after 22 years I thought that was it and now all of a sudden I find myself here with Samoa at the Wellington Sevens. It’s a great challenge and I feel really energised for it. I’ve coached a lot of young Samoans over the years and it’s always been a pleasure coaching them.
"It’s a massive change but something I am looking forward to."
It will be a strange sight for many come Saturday, when Tietjens walks out in front of a familiar crowd in blue not black. His former side are chasing their fourth consecutive title in Wellington and also happen to be the first fixture on the list for Samoa.
"I remember seeing the first fixture for the tournament against New Zealand. It’s something I am really looking forward to. It’s early days but we have worked incredibly hard over the last three or four weeks so hopefully it will be a good game."
Over the past three weeks Tietjens has been introducing his methods to the Samoa set-up, basing the team in New Zealand to start building a culture of high performance.
All areas of the game have been put under the microscope of arguably the sport's most fastidious head coach and with his first tournament on the horizon there have been two key areas in Tietjens' eyes to focus on.
"If they make shifts in two areas, in nutrition and fitness, then they will certainly cut it in the game," he said. "They know how to play the game. Bringing them to New Zealand, we’ve been here for three weeks, is to learn all about what high performance is.
"In Samoa, they understand the game, the physicality of it is never questioned but it’s the speed and intensity of the game that they have got to get used to, to compete in the world series."
The Pacific islanders are no strangers to success in rugby sevens. They won the world series back in 2009-10 and last year won the HSBC Paris Sevens, their first tournament win since 2012.
Inconsistency has been an issue for a team with an abundance of natural sporting talent. They narrowly missed out on a spot at Rio 2016 after losing 22-19 to Spain in the repechage final in Monaco and with 2020 in Tokyo already in the crosshairs, Tietjens is dedicating his energy to achieving Olympic qualification.
"I am motivated by giving something back to the game after such a long time and giving it back to these boys who live on the island," he said.
"I want to build some depth in Samoan rugby sevens. They are still so disappointed about not qualifying for the Olympics and I see it as a dream goal of mine to qualify them as a country for the next Olympics in 2020. You’ve got the world series and Commonwealth Games in between that but the main goal is to get them to the Olympics."
TIME FOR SAMOA’S GAMES TODAY:
2.40pm: Samoa vs New Zealand
5.42pm: Samoa vs U.S.A.
9.36pm: Samoa vs France
Source HSBC WELLINGTON SEVENS