New Zealand Sevens aim to strike gold in Rio

Coach, captain aim for the 2016 Rio Olympics as they prepare for the Sevens World Series’ US tournament.

Last updated: 23 Jan 2014 11:39
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A mixture of youth and experience is what the coach is aiming towards for Rio 2016 [Getty Images]

Success has followed Sir Gordon Tietjens and his Rugby Sevens teams everywhere for over two decades.

From Melrose in Scotland to Kuala Lumpur, the host city for Sevens’ inaugural Commonwealth Games, Tietjens has triumphed.

Yet, for arguably one of the best coaches to have graced the planet in any sport, there is one title that has eluded him – an Olympic gold.

Victory in Rio 2016 would add to an international portfolio that includes 11 World Series, four Commonwealth Games and two World Championships. It has been a staggering rise for Tietjens, who rose through the coaching hierarchy following a 19-12 win with Bay of Plenty over Kelso in the final of the Sevens tournament in 1992.

The Olympics is the pinnacle and (a victory) would be the pinnacle of my career.

Gordon Tietjens, New Zealand Rugby Sevens coach

If it wasn’t for the IOC’s refusal to add Sevens to its Olympic programme until 2016, the man who played rugby on the North island of New Zealand, would probably have an Olympic gold medal to add to his collection. An Olympic gold would be the ‘pinnacle’ of his career, says Tietjens, as he looks back at his career.

“I can reflect on my first tournament as a Rugby coach in the game of sevens,” Tietjens told Al Jazeera.

“I won Melrose and for me then, that’s where Sevens was born and I coached players that won it. It is quite ironic really that I have remained in the game ever since.

“Winning the Hong Kong sevens with New Zealand (1994) was something out of this world. Back then, it was what Sevens was all about.

“Then to go to 1998 to my first Commonwealth Games and to see my players being presented the gold medals, that was just unbelievable. The Olympics is the pinnacle and (a victory) would be the pinnacle of my career.”

The importance of that gold is evident from the plans and strategies Tietjens and his coaching staff have put in place for 2016. Blooding youngsters is one of them, encouraging them to play Sevens and offering youth the incentive of not only representing their country but also becoming an Olympian.

Captain key

Success, though, can be achieved through an ideal mix of youth and experience, and Tietjens acknowledges that as he explains the importance of captain DJ Forbes.

“The coach-captain relationship is hugely important. The captain is the leader on the field and needs to be inspirational and command a huge amount of respect. Forbes is no different, a player who leads by example.

“Even at 31, he’s in a great shape. Mentally he’s very, very tough and physically he has the all the qualities you need to be a top, top Sevens player. Age is not a barrier if you’re performing and Forbes certainly knows that form means everything.”

Forbes has been the mainstay of the All Blacks Sevens side since 2005 and was handed the captain’s armband the following year. Deeply religious and proud of the culture his team embraces, Forbes, who is the nephew of former Samoa captain Peter Fatialofa, is just as eager as Tietjens to bring home the gold from Brazil.

“Just to have a chance of being part of the Olympics wows me as it’s not something I would have thought of before,” Forbes said.

“When I started, it was the Commonwealth Games, the World Cup and the World Series and that was big enough for me in terms of wanting to do well. Now, there’s an opportunity to become an Olympian, to win gold even, and that is good enough to drive me on for another five to 10 years.”

We’re a proud rugby nation and there’s an expectation that if you’re playing in a black jersey with a fern on it, you’re expected to well.

DJ Forbes, New Zealand Rugby Sevens captain

Over the last nine years, Forbes has scored over 100 tries in the World Sevens series for New Zealand but it is Tietjens’ ‘old school’ methods based around hard work and team work that have helped the team immensely.

“We’re a proud rugby nation and there’s an expectation that if you’re playing in a black jersey with a fern on it, you’re expected to well.”

Tietjens fully agrees, adding that the ‘wonderful family culture’ in his side was what most other teams sought.

“The guys train together and they play together. We have now built that legacy within the Sevens system that launches boys coming through my team into the All Blacks and that is most pleasing.”

That system has produced players such as Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Joe Rokocoko, Liam Messam and Israel Dagg and Tietjens remains proud of that record.

“We have certainly built up a fantastic record over the years and that jersey means a hell of a lot. Through the success we have had and the boys we have brought on, that thirst to do well is always there, which is built around our culture.”

This summer in Glasgow, Tietjens and Forbes will have the opportunity to win the Commonwealth Games for a fifth and third time respectively. For now, though, the attention is on the World Series in Las Vegas this weekend.

“We want to prove to ourselves, as well as the world, that we can do well whether it’s a pinnacle event like the Commonwealth Games or under pressure in a one-off tournament. It is always important to prove ourselves on the big stage. 

“We want to return from Las Vegas brimming with confidence.”




Max Forsyth - A freelance sport journalist who graduated with a degree in Sport Journalism from the University of Brighton

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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