World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Gordon Tietjens provided an insight into his coaching philosophy during a recent conversation with Karl Tenana.
“In terms of coaching, it’s always about your people skills and ability to communicate, and to also express as a coach that you care for the people who are playing for you,” Tietjens told his former charge. “Also, establishing and creating a culture, which is very important amongst your team, and having a belief in what you want.”
It is an approach that was underpinned during Tietjens’ 22-year reign as New Zealand Sevens coach by a reputation as the most thorough trainer in the game.
The combination of his uncompromising work ethic on the training pitch, and his expert man-management skills off it proved to be a winning formula.
Between 1994-2016, the All Blacks Sevens won 12 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series titles, two Rugby World Cup Sevens and four Commonwealth Games gold medals.
“One of the reasons he was so successful, he could go between levels. He could hang out with the CEOs or major sponsors but he could also connect with the everyday person as well,” former New Zealand Sevens captain, Tenana told World Rugby.
“Even though he would put you through those tough regimes at trainings and camps and stuff, he got the output on the field.
“When you get that taste for success and get that formula, and you realise he’s doing it with love, to get the best out of you and take you to places you probably didn’t think yourself you could reach, and when you get the benefits of that you go out there and do anything he’d ask of you.”
But, perhaps even more impressive than Tietjens’ ability to collect silverware was his knack for spotting talent.
The 64-year-old has been credited with spotting Jonah Lomu. Tietjens handed the great winger his international sevens debut in 1994, quickly converting him from a forward in order to get him into the game more.
“I wouldn’t have achieved half of the things that I have done in my career if it wasn’t for [Tietjens],” Lomu said in 2014. “The attitude and the fortitude of thinking that he had, that pushed me to where I got to.”
During his New Zealand tenure, Tietjens worked with almost 50 All Blacks, including Eric Rush, Christian Cullen, Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Joe Rokocoko and Rieko Ioane.
According to Smith, the secret to his former coach’s success lay in the intensity of the work that he demanded from his players.
“He always tries to make sure that you’re really struggling, and then he tests you,” the 84-test All Black said in 2016.
Conditioning for success
Tietjens, who had represented New Zealand at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1983, was working as a manager at an engineering firm in the Bay of Plenty when the call came to coach his country.
He took the work ethic and drive that had served him well in management into his new role, and soon decided there was one area where he could make a difference with his new team: conditioning.
“The camps were tough because that’s the mental toughness. The mental toughness is all about attitude, that to me is the real key,” Tietjens said.
“I fail to even think of a player that if he’s very, very fit, he’s at the fittest he’s ever been, I would struggle to name a player who plays poorly.
“I’ve seen players going out of my sevens camps, Jonah was one of those. He always played really well for the All Blacks once he’d been released from the sevens because he was so fit, so focused.
“I’ve seen that with a lot of players.”
During his trophy-lade reign with the All Blacks Sevens, Tietjens received several personal accolades. In 2012, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame, while, in 2013, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom for services to rugby.
Tietjens’ time in charge of New Zealand Sevens came to an end following Rio 2016, where a squad featuring Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams finished fifth. He subsequently spent three years with Samoa, before stepping down earlier this year.