Kurt Baker has hit out at New Zealand Sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens after he was omitted from his country’s squad to compete at next month’s Rio Olympics.
Baker suggested that a personality clash with Tietjens may have played a role in his omission from the squad.
“I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to work out I played every tournament this year and played more minutes than anyone else,” Baker told Newstalk ZB.
“I definitely challenged him on certain issues. I think that’s healthy in a rugby environment.”
Baker’s omission, along with that of All Blacks World Cup winner Liam Messam, were the big surprises when Tietjens named his 12-man squad for the Olympics on Sunday.
Baker admitted that he was upset by the situation.
“I felt a bit used during the season,” he said.
“I just think sometimes there is a bit of division between what the players think and what some of the management think.”
The 27-year-old said it was disappointing that several high profile All Blacks decided not to commit to the Olympic programme and suggested the current environment in the New Zealand Sevens camp may have contributed to that.
“Yeah, I think it’s quite sad those guys didn’t feel comfortable in the Sevens environment,” he added.
Former New Zealand Sevens stalwart Karl Te Nana, who won a Sevens gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, said he couldn’t understand why Baker was not included in the squad for the Olympics.
“I feel for him,” he said.
“I thought he’d done enough to warrant selection. He’s our best stand-off and a huge piece that is missing from our line-up.
“Kurt spoke about challenging Gordon Tietjens and I know, having played for him and captained for him over a long period, you have to choose your battles.
“I think with Kurt challenging Tietjens in front of team-mates is probably not the place to do it.”
Te Nana said he was aware of rumours about an unhappy enviroment in the New Zealand Sevens camp, which may have played a role in several 15-a-side All Blacks’ decision to make themselves unavailable for Olympic selection.
“That’s disappointing to hear, and our ethos on why the 15s guys would always like to come back is because of that environment,” he added.
“I mean, if the players are butting heads with the management and the 15-a-side guys say that, it’s pretty disappointing.”
Tietjens, meanwhile, responded to Baker’s disappointment, and gave his reasons for his exclusion.
“Going to Rio with that best team, the fittest team, is really important to me,” he explained.
“I’ve always been a fan of Kurt Baker. I gave Kurt a lifeline this year once he missed a Super Rugby contract, I brought him back into our environment. But his form has also dropped off due to his injuries. His injuries really concern me.”
Tietjens also revealed that Baker could have had an outside chance to play at the Olympics if he had gone as the All Blacks Sevens’ 13th player.
“I named Kurt as the 13th man to go to Rio,” he added.
“Kurt could have come to Rio if he had got through all the trainings. Kurt elected not to be that 13th man.”