Super coach Tietjens honoured with knighthood

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2013
Gordon Tietjens
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SIR TIETJENS: Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens has been honoured with a knighthood.

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He may be known as a Sevens mastermind but today Gordon Tietjens has been honoured with a knighthood for his inspirational ability to walk in many worlds.

Over the past 20 years, and in the shadow of the 15-man game, Tietjens brought at least 38 All Blacks into the limelight - including Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu - and taught many more the hard-earned values of discipline.

The revered Tietjens deflects praise. He's humbled to just be recognised. It speaks volumes that the man takes more pride from seeing young talent he's developed climb the professional ranks, than from the four Commonwealth Games gold medals and 11 World Series titles he's achieved.

"I get more satisfaction out of someone making a Super Rugby team and going on to be an All Black than actually winning tournaments," he said.

"Every time someone makes one of those sides and you see them progress, that's really pleasing from my perspective. A lot of these younger players launch their careers in sevens. They know I work them hard but if they've got the character to come in and have a crack, then I respect them for that.

"I always hear the boys talk about how hard it is in the sevens team and how bad the coach is, but it's about having the attitude to make it."

Rotorua-born Tietjens has never been out for awards but, make no mistake, he's a relentlessly competitive man.

Just ask Eric Rush, a player who  helped set the standards as sevens captain for 13 years. There are two things Tietjens won't negotiate on: fitness and nutrition. Stories abound of him removing cheese from players' sandwiches. His voice even takes on a stern tone when the topic is raised.

"Nutrition wins me tournaments," Tietjens said. "There's no question about that. It plays a massive role in sevens rugby. A lot of other countries don't realise the influence it has. I've never compromised. If I did, we wouldn't have that consistency we've had over a number of years."

No-one appreciates this fastidious approach to diet more than Rush.

"If he saw one guy overindulging in any type of food that was it, the whole team wasn't allowed to eat it," Rush said. "I was 39 years old when I was playing for him and I wasn't allowed to have ice-cream after dinner. That's the sort of level he took it to. It was unbelievable, but you can't argue with his results."

Many attributes have contributed to Tietjens' trail blazing status as the most successful sevens coach in history. His notoriously gruelling training sessions - the "death drills" - are feared and respected by aspiring players. His strict standards, ability to build a culture and dedication to his craft are compelling. And he could make a strong claim to being the best talent scout in the country. But Rush believes his gift to coach desire stands out. 

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"One of his greatest skills is he walks in a lot of different worlds," Rush said. "He knows how to talk to kids who have been to the private schools; brought up on dairy farms or on the streets of South Auckland. It doesn't matter. He knows how to deal with them. And he knows what buttons to push. Most players respond under his coaching. That's been the secret. He brings old school discipline to modern day footy.

"It's a rare feat to have not just success but continued success over a long period of time. That takes a special person."

From here there's one major box to tick. In three years time, New Zealand wouldn't want anyone else plotting the quest for gold at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Seeing a player being presented with a gold medal, hearing the anthem and the raising of the flag and the emotion that's involved, it's second to none," Tietjens said. "I can't separate any of them. It's so satisfying. When I look ahead to the Olympics that will be the pinnacle of my career as a coach."

- Stuff

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