2012 Inductee: Gordon Tietjens

(IRB.COM) Sunday 13 May 2012
 
 2012 Inductee: Gordon Tietjens
Gordon Tietjens is peerless in the Sevens world

IRB Hall of Fame – Inductee No.49 – Gordon F Tietjens (New Zealand), (1955-)

Personal details

– Born: 9 December 1955 in Wanganui, New Zealand
– Family: Together with his twin brother Gary he was the third son of Gordon Rhodes and mother Adeline Florence. His older brother is Patrick and they had a younger sister Colleen. His father was a railway worker and the family moved from place to place as the job required. He was married to Glenys – they are now separated - with whom he had two children, a son Paul and daughter Kylie.
– Education: Attended Rotorua St Mary’s Convent Primary School from 1961-1966, then Rotorua Intermediate School (1967- 1968) and Rotorua Boys Highs School (1969-1972).
– Nickname: ‘Titch’
                                                                                 
Professional career

He left school aged 17 in 1973, joining a company called International Harvester, which took him to Auckland to complete his training. By 1974 he was back in Rotorua with International Harvester, as a sales rep until 1983. He started working at the Bay Engineering Supplies in Tauranga in 1984. He eventually became General Manager, though the company enabled him to concentrate on his rugby duties as well. He is now Strategic Sales Manager of the BGH group and has been contracted by the New Zealand Rugby Union as Sevens coach until after the 2016 Olympic Games.

Rugby career

– He grew up in Rotorua where he started playing with his brothers, and occasionally his sister.
– Played for the Rotorua Boys High School 1st XV in 1971-1972. His early playing positions were full back and fly half, but he moved into the back row, either at number eight or flanker in his later years with the school.
– Selected for the Rotorua ‘Tai Mitchell’ rugby team in 1968 (A Bay of Plenty tournament for Intermediate youngsters).
– After school he briefly joined Rotorua Marist St Michel’s club, before he relocated to Auckland to complete his training.
– In Auckland he joined the Marist RFC from which he was selected for the Auckland Colts in 1973.
– He returned to Rotorua in 1974 and rejoined his old club Rotorua Marist St Michel’s.
– In 1977 he made his debut for Bay of Plenty against King Country at Te Kuiti and would go on to play 78 first class games for his province from 1977 to 1987.
– Following an injury he left for London where he joined London Welsh and played Sevens for the first time.
– In 1974 Tietjens was selected for the NZ Marist Colts team for their maiden match against Wellington Colts.
– In 1976 he played for the NZ Marist senior side at number 8 against NZ Combined Services.
– In 1978 he played in the back row of a NZ Marist XV against Hawke’s Bay.
– In 1981 he was selected as blindside flanker for the NZ Marist XV for the Spillane Tournament.
– The following year he was selected for the North Island Marist XV.
– He played 14 matches for Waikato from the Putaruru RFC in 1983.To play for the Waikato Sevens team in 1983 he had to play for a Waikato club, so although still living in Rotorua he commuted across to Putaruru – a trip of less than an hour – three times a week to qualify.
– He made the New Zealand Sevens team in 1983 and was selected for the Hong Kong Sevens.

Coaching career

– He was appointed selector/coach of Bay of Plenty NPC team in 1992 and then reappointed from 1995 to 2001.
– Head coach of New Zealand Sevens team from 1994 to date, the longest serving coach in international rugby.
– Contracted by the New Zealand Rugby Union to coach the New Zealand Sevens team until 2016, including the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, by which time he will have been at the helm for an unprecedented 22 years.

Career highlights

– He has coached New Zealand to four Commonwealth Games gold medals in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010.
– He coached New Zealand to Rugby World Cup Sevens success in 2001.
– He has coached New Zealand in all 109 IRB Sevens World Series events since the inception of the Series in 1999.
– These tournaments have yielded 44 Cup titles and 66 Cup finals (at end of 2011/12 Series).
– He guided New Zealand to six consecutive IRB Sevens World Series titles between 2000 and 2005, winning 10 of the 13 World Series titles to date.
– New Zealand won the 2001/02 Series with 198 points, the highest total to date. This Series did include 11 tournaments, rather than the nine currently on the calendar in 2011/12.
– New Zealand is at the top of the all-time Series table with 1.832 points, followed by Fiji with 1,551 (at end of 2011/12 Series).
– At the start of 2012 he had coached 37 players who became All Blacks including Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Mils Muliaina and Joe Rokocoko.

Awards

– New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999
– NPC Coach of the Year in 2000
– New Zealand Coach of the Year in 2010
– Bay of Plenty Polytechnic 2011 Supreme Award

Books

Titch – Sevens is my game – The Gordon Tietjens story” written with Heather Kidd.

What they said

Emma Storey (writer, New York Times): “Gordon Tietjens should be nicknamed Midas. If ever there was anyone with the golden touch, it is the New Zealand Rugby Sevens coach ... That success can be attributed to Tietjens,  his legendarily brutal training sessions — where even the fittest players can be left vomiting on the sideline — and his knack for plucking virtual unknowns from fifteens rugby and setting them on the path to stardom.”
 
Kate Pierson (writer, Magazines Today): “As the New Zealand Sevens coach, Gordon Tietjens’ career has been an incandescent light, burning brighter than perhaps he himself could have even imagined. It has guided him on an incredible journey where the light of his own personality has shown others the way forward. The people whose lives he has helped shape and enrich would undoubtedly agree. And while it’s said ‘don't let your job define you’, Tietjens wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, he defines his job.”

Michelle Hewiston (New Zealand Herald journalist): “He takes being called obsessive as a compliment. It means he’s committed, which takes discipline.”
 
Eric Rush (former NZ Sevens captain and assistant coach): “We played this game of nonstop touch (nicknamed ‘death’) with Titch making up his own rules, we just played and played and literally everyone was walking by the end of it, no one could run despite the fact that he was still screaming his head off at us.”

Keith Quinn (commentator, TVNZ online magazine): “How Tietjens does it is beyond full understanding. Put simply, he can mould any new combination to full team unity within several days of travel and togetherness and three or four training sessions.”
 
NZRU Chief Executive Steve Tew: “One of the key components of our Olympic campaign is to have the very best coaches on board. We now have that in Gordon, who is without a doubt the world’s best Sevens coach.”

What he said

“Whoever plays will do the job.”

“It’s quite amazing really. I identified him only about eight or nine weeks ago playing in a tournament in Te Rapa, just a club tournament. I picked him originally as an emerging player, he was a reserve and wasn’t even going with us when I took a young team over to the Gold Coast, but you could just see these little glimpses,” (about new NZ Sevens sensation Declan O’Donnell).

“To be good at Sevens you’ve got to be playing it and training for it. The ideal lead-in for a player if he wasn’t already part of the Sevens programme – you’re probably looking at three or four months.”

“NZ Rugby Union see it as a big part of development and I accept that ... the other day they named 39 All Blacks, a New Zealand Maori side, a New Zealand colts side and a Junior All Black side and we had 28 Sevens players in those four caps. I counted them.”

“The truth is that fitness requirements are different between Sevens and fifteens, and my players know that. A lot of 15-a-side coaches look at the Sevens and assume that I’m shedding the weight off the players, but in actual fact the way the game is going it’s actually really important for a Sevens player to retain weight now ... You can ask players that have gone on to become All Blacks what they learnt from the Sevens – someone like an Anthony Tuitavake or a Cory Jane, a Tamati Ellison or a Liam Messam – and they’ll tell you about the regime, having to work hard, develop the training work ethic and everything around that. These guys attribute a lot of their success to what they learnt in the Sevens.”

“Now you have to have a minimum of seven players out there who can all contribute, can all defend and who all have an X-Factor to some degree. Pace is a huge ingredient but all of the players need pace now and you also need players who can keep hold of the ball for long periods ... You talk of fifteens and defensive lines being important, no more so than in Sevens. In our game one line break can cost you a game and cost you a tournament – it’s as simple as that.”

Additional research: Brent Drabble (NZ)