Perfectionist Tietjens calls for specialised refs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am

The mastermind of sevens rugby and the man credited with discovering 37 All Blacks wants specialised referees and video technology introduced in the build-up to the 2016 Olympic Games.

'You are going to have specialised sevens players so you should have specialised referees because it is a different game with different fitness levels,' says Gordon Tietjens.

The long-standing New Zealand sevens coach said the right person for the job, plus video refereeing was the way forward for the sport.

'Reading a game is really important and being really accurate in the contact areas at the breakdown,' Tietjens said. 'It is not so much changes to the actual rules themselves or the way that the game is being played.

'But what we need is to have the right people refereeing the game for it to remain a spectacle. I urge we appoint specialist sevens referees because the game is getting bigger.'

Tietjens, who blooded players such as Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen in the cauldron of sevens rugby before they went on to become big stars in the 15s world, is also a strong advocate of using modern technology.

'We need video referees. We don't need two referees on the field of play, but we certainly need a video referee to give the players the right to challenge some calls in terms of what they do in tennis. It would be sad if winning a [Olympic] gold medal was decided on an error.

'When you are playing for gold medals you have to be very accurate and there are times when you get it wrong with the in-goal touch judges. They may not make the right call and we as a team or as a player haven't got the right to challenge that, and this could decide between winning or losing a gold medal.

'Being a part of the Olympics will be a dream for the players. I have been involved in five Commonwealth Games and that has been the highlight of my career, not only winning [the gold medals], but being involved in it. It has been a dream come true to go to the Commonwealth Games so to go to the Olympics would be the ultimate.'

With the International Rugby Board to announce its new strategic plan in May, now sevens is in the Olympic Games - from Rio in 2016 - the sevens rugby world is waiting with bated breath.

Tietjens said he would also like more teams involved.

'The IRB's strategic plan should go out and offer more support to the minnow countries so we can have more players playing sevens. I would like sevens to compete with football and be player-wise, one of the most popular sports in the world.'

His knack for spotting young, talented and often obscure players has not diminished over the years. This season, Tietjens has unearthed Declan O'Donnell, an 18-year-old who was playing club rugby in Waikato before being elevated into the glamorous jet-setting world of the IRB Sevens World Series.

'I often go to sevens tournaments around the country and there was one in Hamilton and he was playing for Te Rapa, a club side. I suppose it was pure luck he performed on that day,' Tietjens said.

O'Donnell has been a try-scoring sensation. notching 20 tries this season - just two short of leader Cecil Afrika from South Africa - and is set to light up Hong Kong this weekend as New Zealand go in search of a 10th Cup title.

But it's not getting easier, says Tietjens, who says any of seven or eight teams can win the Cup. 'Every team now does a lot of analysis and homework, and you are looking to get shut down a lot earlier.

'We have been the benchmark for a number of years and a lot of teams have gone out and copied what we have done in terms of preparations for tournaments, how we plan our selections, the trainings we do, how we train, the intensity we train at. With teams doing this much homework on us it is a lot harder to win now.'

But New Zealand, who have won eight of the 11 world series - have started strongly with wins in George and Wellington to be on top of the IRB standings on 80 points with England.

'It has been a good start when you consider we have lost nine players from last year,' Tietjens said. 'I have probably more new young players in this team than in the past.

'But Sevens is a massive launching pad for players these days. And I get huge satisfaction when they first get selected to Super 15, and if they go on to play for the All Blacks, because I then feel sevens is doing its job of developing players.'