Tietjens keeps faith in youth with one eye fixed firmly on Rio de Janeiro

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 March, 2010, 12:00am

Most of the players in Gordon Tietjens' squad weren't even born when the renowned New Zealand coach did his thing as a player in Hong Kong in 1983.

He might have a squad with youth on their side - the average age of his team is 22 - but Tietjens believes that with sevens 'just around the corner' in the 2016 Olympics, the pathway to success is to identify star players younger than the current system allows.

'Now that sevens is in the Olympics, its validity as a development sport will increase. The key to Olympics success will be identifying players at a younger age. The Olympics is only six years away. We need to be looking at future stars now in players who are 18 or under.'

The coach known for blooding young players is convinced that for his country to succeed at the 'newest' Olympic sport, there is no time to waste.

'Not only do we need to be identifying talent now, we need to be giving them the experience in the game, especially at international level. We need to be putting them in front of more competition, particularly in Hong Kong. This factor will make the game more prestigious, .'

As one of the most successful sevens coaches in the world, Tietjens also believes that being an Olympic sport will change the game. 'Sevens is a game that evolves all the time. There will be a lot more analysis, and it will be a lot more competitive.'

Tietjens seems convinced the new order in sevens will give his team a shake-up and set him new challenges.

'The domination we have seen for years by New Zealand and Fiji will change. Currently in sevens internationally, one or two nations could win; that pool will be widened substantially to around 10 nations.

'Kenya have a good chance at Olympic gold. They've improved enormously, and it's now a major sport over there. Japan have a chance to have a crack at it, too. France are an awesome side, they have a huge depth of knowledge of the game, as do the South Pacific nations,' he said.

'On any given day any of these teams could win. The so-called favourites need to watch their backs. I have seen Canada turn around and beat Fiji. USA made the semi-final of the World Games Sevens. They have incredible Olympic centres in the States and are very focused on winning and analysis.'

Closer to home, Tietjens believes China could also stake their claim in sevens. 'I believe China will be looking for the best coaches and expertise to perform well at the Olympics, as well as at analysis.'

Despite the new contenders, he has not lost sight of his closest rivals. Fiji have won the Hong Kong Sevens 12 times - more than any other nation, including two World Cup years (1997 and 2005). New Zealand have won nine times.

'Fiji have more depth in sevens than any other country in the world. So much so, that they could send three teams to the Hong Kong Sevens right now. It's undoubtedly their national sport. New Zealand has a wealth of rugby players, but not necessarily sevens players. When considering its population, Fiji produces more sevens players than any other country. This factor emphasises why we've got to have our identification programmes in place.'

Tietjens has also won three Commonwealth Games gold medals - at Manchester, Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. 'All of the games were a sell-out, and this shows me that sevens as an Olympic sport will make the game even more popular, and it's my next goal.

Making a comparison between the Hong Kong Sevens and the Olympics, Tietjens added: 'Just like at the Olympics, there's a huge flavour of all of the nations who compete. Due to Hong Kong's diverse mix of expats, overseas visitors to the tournament and local Chinese, there is a support base for all of the nations who compete. The Hong Kong Stadium is probably one of the best in the world; it's a magnificent arena for sevens.'

New Zealand lead the World Sevens Series with 84 points, thanks to winning the opening two tournaments in Dubai and George, South Africa, but Samoa (70) and Fiji (68) have made a race of it with wins in Las Vegas and Wellington, respectively. England are fourth on 50 points.

'We'll be having a real crack at winning in Hong Kong,' Tietjens said. 'Not only does it represent the most points on the Sevens circuit [30 to the winners], it's the most prestigious tournament.

'It might be a far cry since the days when it was the only international tournament, but all the players who come through my squad grow up watching it on TV, hearing about it and it's always their goal. At this stage, their adrenalin for it is building. The Hong Kong Sevens is still the Holy Grail on the international circuit.'