Hong Kong Sevens is still the best – retired New Zealand legend Gordon Tietjens pays tribute to ‘special tournament’
The pioneer trainer first came to Hong Kong in 1983 as a player but became part of world sevens folklore thanks to his success as a coach
Legendary New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said the Hong Kong Sevens remains the best tournament in the world and will continue to lead the way, paying tribute to the event that helped him take sevens rugby to a new level.
The 60-year-old Tietjens announced his retirement from the New Zealand sevens set-up after 22 years at the helm, leaving on a disappointing note as the All Blacks were beaten in the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics last month.
And the former Bay of Plenty coach says the Hong Kong Sevens provided him with some of his greatest rugby memories – good and bad – and that organisers should stick with their winning formula, which is the envy of other sevens tournaments around the world.
“The way it is right now, you wouldn’t want to change it,” said Tietjens. “With the 16-team format, I think it’s fantastic. You don’t see blowout scores like you used to.
“You still have major teams playing lesser teams but the smaller ones are getting stronger. By playing in Hong Kong, you are having that exposure to top-level rugby.
“The tournament still has all the luxuries, the atmosphere, the players’ parade. It’s still the leading tournament in the world and it was a huge part of my career.
“There is always an incentive to go back to Hong Kong simply because it is Hong Kong and next time it will be a bit different for me not being there, unless I’m there in some sort of ambassadorial role.”
Tietjens first came to Hong Kong in 1983 as a player – part of the first-ever full New Zealand team to play at the Sevens. However, it was as a coach that he really made an impression.
He took charge of the All Blacks Sevens for the first time in 1994, unleashing an 18-year-old Jonah Lomu on the world as New Zealand dominated with a squad of sevens specialists.
The All Blacks went on to win three titles in a row.
Tietjens won eight Hong Kong Sevens titles overall (1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2014) and was runner-up six times (1999, 2003, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016). In 2005, New Zealand were runners-up to Fiji in the World Cup held in Hong Kong.
Outside of Hong Kong, he led New Zealand to two world titles, 12 World Sevens Series crowns and four Commonwealth Games gold medals.
Tietjens, who also developed or introduced players such as Glen Osborne, Eric Rush, Dallas Seymour and Christian Cullen through sevens, rates his maiden win as coach in Hong Kong as one of his best memories.
“Winning my first tournament as coach, in 1994, was special,” he said. “Simply because Hong Kong is a special tournament. Hong Kong was the sevens capital of the world, it still is and it is still the tournament everyone wants to win.
“We have won it a number of times and been finalists several times. It is just a special tournament.”
Hong Kong is also the scene of one of his greatest disappointments – losing to South Africa in the semi-finals of the 1997 World Cup.
“That was a bit tough to take,” he said. “It was the second ever World Cup but my first one. You coach the team to try to win the World Cup but that year it was a big disappointment.”
Tietjens last match in charge at the Hong Kong Sevens was this year’s loss to Fiji in the final.