Too early to dump veterans says Tietjens
TOBY ROBSON AT WESTPAC STADIUM
Gordon Tietjens has leapt to the defence of his most senior players - for now.
The New Zealand sevens coach acknowledged their would be criticism of his core group in the wake of their shock 19-14 semifinal loss to Kenya, a result that ended their defence of the Wellington leg of the IRB world series.
Surprisingly it was the established big three of Tomasi Cama, Lote Raikabula and even always reliable skipper DJ Forbes who struggled to make an impact during the tournament.
All three men are north of 30 and with an Olympic tsunami of young talent coming through, Tietjens knows there will come a time for change. He insists that time has not yet come.
"I think we rush into things too quickly at times because this game is pretty close and competitive now and we do get the odd criticism of, ‘I think so and so has been there a while and it's just about time to go'," he said.
"I've got two or three guys that are 29 and 30 now and I will get that criticism, but I'm the coach that's looking at the numbers and what they're producing at training and in games . . . if I feel there's nobody better than those players . . . certainly I'll still give them that opportunity.
"We've got to remember that Eric Rush was still playing for New Zealand when he was 39 and he kept himself in outstanding shape."
However, Tietjens didn't hide from the fact the 2016 Olympics could be a challenge for some of his trusted men unless they carefully managed their workloads.
Ideally, that would mean more players contracted solely to the abbreviated game.
"It's a tough one, but for those players, certainly when you're 30, I think you've got to start making the choice and it might be that these players can only play the one form of the sport and that could be sevens more than 15s.
"I don't think players can back up now playing ITM Cup and sevens rugby on the World Series. They just don't get a break and there will be a time, hopefully, in the next 12 months where we contract seven or eight full-time.
"But never go away from the fact we also use it as a launch pad for younger players to come through to Super Rugby and obviously the goal for them is the All Blacks."
Things will not get easier for New Zealand as the head away to Las Vegas for round five minus Kurt Baker (hamstring) and possibly Forbes, who limped off against Kenya with a knee injury.
But there is consolation in the fact that the 10-time world series winners have a healthy lead atop the current ladder, one that increased further still even without the Wellington title.
Tietjens couldn't put his finger on why his side had stumbled against Kenya except to say they had not taken their opportunities after leading 14-0 at halftime through tries to Cama and Tim Mikkelson. New Zealand had beaten Australia 24-5 in their quarterfinal, but never really had the dominance they have previously displayed in Wellington.
"I was disappointed the way we let them back into the game. We still had opportunities to win it," Tietjens said after the loss to Kenya. "Then just uncharacteristic [mistakes]. Perhaps a little bit of yesterday came back in those last few minutes. A couple of off loads didn't go to hand and they shouldn't have [been thrown] really.
"We let ourselves down and the players are in there [the changing room] hurting about it right now."
Kenya could not have been more deserving, or popular, finalists having earlier come from behind to beat South Africa 21-20 in a pulsating quarterfinal.
- Sunday Star Times