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Tietjens comes out into the open

Nz Herald
Sunday, October 29, 2017

FORMER New Zealand sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens has lifted the lid on his frustrations over a lack of support from New Zealand Rugby which he believes led to the team's failure at the Rio Olympics.

New Zealand crashed out of the 2016 Olympics, the first time sevens had been included in the global sporting event, after losing to eventual winners Fiji in their quarter-final.

New Zealand Rugby stated as one of its strategic goals that nothing short of two gold medals (the women won silver) would be considered successful, yet did little to help bolster Tietjens' playing resources.

In a new book Legacy, Tietjens outlines his difficulties, which he says even led to internal dissent within New Zealand Rugby over his treatment. After initially agreeing to be a part of Tietjens' Olympic squad, several All Blacks, including Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea, had changes of heart.

The latter's about-turn was described by Tietjens as a "dagger in the chest" and there has long been speculation that forces within the All Blacks or New Zealand Rugby were at play."

"Here was a guy who only weeks before had told me how much he was enjoying the environment and how excited he was to get himself into the best physical shape for the Olympics," Tietjens writes.

"Now he was telling me he was refocusing on the fifteens game. I didn't need to ask him for an explanation, so I wished him luck and left it at that."

"When we talked about Beauden Barrett, I asked if anyone could tell me why a guy who seemed to so keen initially had now completely changed his mind. Neil Sorensen looked at Ian Foster and asked him what he had talked to Beauden about. Ian said he had never told him he couldn't play sevens, he had only outlined a list of things he needed to work on in the fifteens game. I eventually left the meeting feeling completely isolated and that no leadership had been shown there. New Zealand Rugby had a documented strategic goal that proclaimed gold medals in the men's and women's sevens competition to be the number one priority in the 2016 season. I was therefore very surprised that no one spoke up to defend the program, or my right to prepare players as I saw fit. A couple of months after the meeting, once I was back to my own preparations, I received a text message from Neil Sorensen. He wrote: 'I admire you for the way you handled the disgrace that was the AB-7s selection issue. Your integrity remains intact'."

Tietjens' team was badly affected by injury before and during the Olympics. Augustine Pulu, Ben Lam and Joe Webber were ruled out beforehand, and at the Hong Kong tournament he lost DJ Forbes and Sam Dickson. Sonny Bill Williams ruptured his Achilles during the Rio tournament. In March 2015, Tietjens sent an email to Tricker and Sorensen, saying he desperately needed players with "game-breaking qualities" which had proven to be the difference in the Wellington and Sydney World Series tournaments of that year."

"I listed players I would like to consider, once again including Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith and adding Vaea Fifita, Julian Savea, Seta Tamanivalu, Sione Fifita, Jone Macilai, Patrick Osborne, Vince Aso and Nehe Milner-Skudder. It was a plea for help, really, from a desperate coach. I didn't not receive a single reply. Instead, not long after that email was sent, I received a phone call from Ardie Savea. He was out, too. I cannot tell you how devastated I was to receive that news."

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