Tietjens: Hard taskmaster who discovered Lomu

Tue, 06 Sep 2016 08:59

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: For 22 years, Gordon Tietjens ruled New Zealand Sevens rugby with an iron fist, bringing unprecedented success and introducing stars such as Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen to the world.

Tietjens, 60, who announced Tuesday he was quitting, began his tenure in the amateur era, was coaching New Zealand when the Sevens World Series was formed in 1999-2000 and bowed out on sport's biggest stage, the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Through his more than two decades in charge, he was renowned as the toughest trainer in the game, giving his players an athleticism that dominated the Sevens circuit for years.

Some complained they vomited through sheer exertion, while one of his favourite training ground exercise was called "death", because of the dread it induced in his charges.

Current All Blacks fullback Ben Smith said Tietjens was "one of a kind", who pushed him to the limit. 

"He always tries to make sure that you're really struggling, and then he tests you," he told Fairfax New Zealand.

The hard work paid off for Tietjens, resulting in 12 Sevens World Series titles, four Commonwealth gold medals and two Sevens World Cup crowns.

It was a future few had seen for a one-time Bay of Plenty forward regarded as skilled but a little too lightweight to compete in the XV5-man game.

But he ended up being a mentor to some of the greatest All Blacks in history, including the game's first global superstar Jonah Lomu, who made an immediate impact on debut as New Zealand won the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens in Tietjens' first year in charge.

Lomu went on to star for the All Blacks in the 1995 and 1999 World Cups, but would be called upon time and again by Tietjens for Sevens duty, propelling New Zealand to Commonwealth Games gold in 1998 and the Sevens World Cup in 2001 in Argentina.

"[Lomu] basically single-handedly won us our first World Cup in South America," Tietjens said.

"Quite incredible for someone who was so big, so quick, so strong. He probably wasn't as fit as I'd want as a coach but he gave me everything else."

Tietjens' no-holds-barred approach worked for years but was challenged by rivals of similar intensity when Sevens was confirmed as an Olympic sport.

The coach said he was "incredibly disappointed" his team came fifth in Rio.

"But we have to acknowledge just how far Sevens rugby has come," he said.

"It's become intensely competitive and the Olympics proved just how tough it is to win at this level these days."

Agence France-Presse

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