‘Impossible not to feel’ if Samoa face New Zealand, says ex-Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens
After 22 years with the All Blacks Sevens, the legendary coach is now backing the Pacific Islanders all the way
Gordon Tietjens has spent the past 22 years at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens looking at the opposition from a New Zealand perspective. This year, he is an outsider as far as the All Blacks are concerned.
Now coaching Samoa, Tietjens admitted that emotions may run high if his new team were to face New Zealand after the group stages in Hong Kong.
The two sides have played each other twice in this season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, with the Kiwis winning both times in pool games – a 26-21 victory in Dubai and a 33-7 win in Wellington.
However, the Hong Kong event is a special for Tietjens, Samoa and New Zealand and a meeting in front of 40,000 fans at So Kon Po would bring two decades of memories flooding back for the 61-year-old.
“After 22 years [coming to Hong Kong] it’s impossible not to have some feelings like that, particularly in Hong Kong where we have had so much success over the years,” said Tietjens.
“I have of course a lot of good friends in the set-up still but I also remember that we are living in a professional world now.
“I am paid to coach Samoa and that’s professionalism so I have no doubt that if we do play New Zealand during the weekend then I will be coaching Samoa and pushing for them to beat New Zealand.”
Tietjens stepped down as New Zealand coach after last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where the All Blacks Sevens failed to be among the medals.
A specialist sevens coach, the Rotorua-born Tietjens changed the way sevens was played when he took the helm, bringing in players such as Jonah Lomu, Glen Osborne, Eric Rush, Christian Cullen and Dallas Seymour, as well as other players who went on to play for the All Blacks in fifteens.
One of the biggest differences, he says, about coaching Samoa is the expectations. New Zealand are always expected to win while the Samoans, who have had success in past Hong Kong tournaments, are these days considered outsiders.
“I get excited by that kind of challenge,”said Tietjens. “I have had 22 years of expectations on my shoulders in New Zealand and here [in Samoa] is more understanding of what we are facing and that it’s not a quick fix.
“But we are seeing that consistency of improvement and that potential coming through, which is exciting.”
It’s not an entirely new scenario for Tietjens, with many of his New Zealand teams featuring Samoan-born talent, including Ardie Savea, Reiko Ioane, Rodney Soialo and, going way back to the 90s, Junior Paramore.
Despite their rich sevens history, the Samoans failed to qualify for the Rio Games. This is something Tietjens hopes to rectify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I thought that [Samoa] was an opportunity for a team that were so disappointed after missing out on Rio, going very close but not qualifying; Samoa is a proud rugby nation with a great history in the game but looking at the set-up it was apparent that the stocks were depleted and that a lot of high-profile players were now pursuing professional careers, particularly in the UK.
“So we had an opportunity to try to replenish those stocks and work from the base upwards in getting some depth.”