Currently, Samoa may be lying in 13th out of 19 teams in the HSBC Rugby World Sevens series. But to Sir Gordon Tietjens, the most successful coach in Rugby Sevens history, he is relishing the challenge of transforming the small Pacific Island nation into a successful rugby sevens side.
Said Tietjens, who had spent the past 22 years coaching the All Blacks Sevens prior to taking on the Samoa job this January, “After spending so long coaching New Zealand, it’s time to stand down. I have done my bit but my passion for sevens rugby still burns strongly. So now I am helping this small Pacific Island country and I have the drive to get them into the next Olympics.”
Samoa had narrowly missed out on making it into the recent 2016 Rio Olympics, having been beaten by Spain 22-19 in the qualifying tournament.
Under no illusions about the challenges ahead
But the accomplished Tietjens is under no illusion about the challenges that he is facing, in order to help Samoa achieve success.
He said, “In Samoa, I do not have the resources that I had in New Zealand. So at this moment I am trying to prioritise what is best for Samoan rugby; to build depth and to have the best players available to me, to be fully contracted to Samoa rugby. That is the drive at the moment.”
Added Tietjens, “It takes time with anything and I have worked with successful sides in the past. That success will not simply be transformed to Samoa. Drive is needed to get there and this is why I am taking on this challenge. It will not be an easy fix and there is pressure but I enjoy this pressure; I want to see Samoa do well but I need to be patient and build depth and to get a real understanding of the requirements for them to compete at this level.”
He also pointed out though, that the culture at Samoa is quite different compared to coaching the All Blacks Sevens. Said Tietjens, “There was actually a huge pressure taken off my shoulders when I stepped down from being coach of the All Blacks Sevens! The thing with the All Blacks is that when you do not win you have to answer to the media, but at Samoa they are more forgiving as they understand that success takes time, to develop the players and the right mindset needed to do well at this game.”
Quick to admit it will be hard to achieve the success Ben Ryan’s Fiji had
Despite Fiji, another Pacific Island team, having achieved stunning success in Sevens rugby under English coach Ben Ryan, Tietjens continues to remain humble about his chances of success and he is quick to admit that it may possibly be hard to achieve similar results with Samoa.
He said, “Upon coming here, I quickly realised that Samoa has like, 185,000 people, but Fiji has more than a million people. Even Auckland has similar numbers of people to Fiji.”
Continued Tietjens, “Also, the Fiji squad has more depth than Samoa; and when they went to the Olympics they had a chance to win. The battle to build depth and pace in the Samoa rugby team will be difficult. The pace of the game on the island is very different and much slower compared to the pace of the sevens game in the world series.”
Huge differences between the sevens and 15s rugby game
He also added that taking a good 15s rugby player and putting him into the sevens game is not the same thing, as there is a huge difference between the two games. This is despite Samoa having a good number of 15s rugby players. Said Tietjens, “A game of sevens and 15s is so far apart. Some players do make a successful transition and many in Fiji understand that taking a good 15s player will take months to train him and get him to the sevens level. Sevens rugby is very specialised and players need to be transitioned accordingly.”
He added “The load of a sevens player is so much more than a 15s player; the amount of running they do can easily clock about eight to 10 kilometres in training. They don’t get anywhere close to those numbers in 15s rugby.”
Samoa is in a tough pool for the upcoming Singapore Sevens
And for the upcoming HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, Samoa is in a tough pool with Australia, Argentina and defending champions Kenya. Said Tietjens on the draw, “Every pool is tough. But we pushed England and Australia both to two points in the past and we are hopeful we can get something here.”
He added, “Kenya would also love to come here and defend their crown. They played us a couple of times and they are a great side. Collins Injera is an outstanding player and he brings a lot to the Kenyan team.”