Absent New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens sends instructions from afar
Kiwi’s long-time coach stays home with ear infection but players know what is expected ahead of showpiece
Even though missing in action, the shadow of Gordon Tietjens hung over New Zealand's first training session at So Kon Po yesterday.
Hours after landing, a raw All Blacks Sevens squad were trying to get rid of their jet lag as they prepared for this week's Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens without their talismanic coach Tietjens, who remained home with an ear infection and is due to join the squad on Thursday or Friday morning.
The players, nine of whom are new to Hong Kong, have not had a chance to miss his absence. "Titch has reminded everyone what needs to be done," said Tomasi Cama, New Zealand's injured playmaker who will sit out the action at Hong Kong Stadium this weekend.
Manager Ross Everiss added: "He called me as soon as we landed asking if everything was okay."
A team insider leaked that Tietjens was finding it "irksome" having been forced to stay behind by doctors who felt it was wiser to take the safe option and delay his trip by a few days to allow his cochlea to heal.
"It feels strange to be here without him," Everiss said. "He has never missed a Hong Kong Sevens, and the build-up to it, ever since he became coach."
Since 1994, Tietjens has been a fixture at the Sevens. His training sessions are legendary for the pain barrier the players are asked to cross, and then re-cross.
Skipper DJ Forbes laughed when asked if the 90-minute session under caretaker coach Damian Karauna was easier than if Tietjens had been around. "Oh, we were just trying to shake off the travel. I'm sure it will get harder over the next few days," said Forbes.
As if the absence of Tietjens was not strange enough, the sight of Cama carrying the water was also weird. From IRB Player of the Year last season to water-boy this weekend, Cama has, like his coach, been left irritated by having to follow medical advice.
"I picked up a groin strain last year playing 15s rugby and it has been niggling me for a long time. I played the first few tournaments this season on the IRB World Series without a problem, but when I got back from Las Vegas [the last leg last month] I was asked to do an X-ray and the doctors told me I had to rest for six weeks or risk it getting worse," Cama explained.
Cama has played in Hong Kong since 2006. Two years after making his debut, he was Best and Fairest Player. The class of 2013 will not have the luxury of such a grace period. From Ben Lam to Rocky Khan, the newbies must hit the ground running.
"Yes, we don't have much experience as far as Hong Kong is concerned. Of the nine newcomers to Hong Kong, seven have played on the circuit this season and only two are making their debuts, Trinity Spooner-Neera and Matt Faddes. We only have DJ, Lote [Raikabula] and Timmy [Mikkelson] who know what it is like to play at Hong Kong Stadium. It will depend a lot on how the other guys settle in," Everiss said.
No coach, no Player of the Year, no experience. New Zealand are up against it.
"When the guys pull on the black jersey, everyone will expect us to be the best. The guys have a lot to prove," Forbes added.