Following Sir Gordon Tietjens’ announcement that he is stepping down as head coach of the New Zealand Men’s Sevens side, we look back at seven epic moments of success from his 22 years at the helm.
Commonwealth Games – 1998
Four years after Tietjens took over, New Zealand triumphed at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur having come through the pool stages unbeaten with comfortable wins over Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Tonga and the Bahamas.
Featuring a squad packed full of names who would go on to make an impact at Test and Super Rugby level, or alternatively in Europe in the case of Bruce Reihana, two greats of New Zealand rugby in Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen combined with familiar names in Rico Gear, Caleb Ralph and future New Zealand Sevens assistant coach Eric Rush.
New Zealand breezed through their quarter-final against Wales, winning 38-14, but were pushed hard in their 19-14 semi-final win over Samoa.
Fiji were New Zealand’s opponents in the final but inspired by Jonah Lomu the title went to Tietjens and his squad, making them the first ever rugby winners at the Commonwealth Games.
Sevens World Series winners – 2000
Much like in 1998, the 2000 Sevens World Series was a two-horse race between New Zealand and Fiji as the inaugural competition passed through Dubai, Stellenbosch (South Africa), Punta del Este (Uruguay), Mar del Plata (Argentina), Wellington, Suva, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.
Across the series, New Zealand and Fiji were the only two sides to win any of the individual tournaments, with Tietjens’ squad triumphing in Dubai, Uruguay, Fiji, Hong Kong and Paris. The crucial win in that series was Hong Kong, given that more points were awarded for winning the title (30) compared to the usual 20 points.
New Zealand’s title in France, and Fiji’s slump in that final tournament, ensured that the first ever Series title belong to Tietjens and his men, finishing in style with a whopping 69-10 in the final of the Paris Sevens over South Africa.
Rugby World Cup Sevens winners – 2001
A total of 24 teams descended on Argentina in 2001 to compete in the third Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament, with Fiji the defending champions from 1997.
New Zealand topped Pool C with five wins out of five to set up a quarter-final with Samoa, which they breezed through by a score of 45-7. There were few issues for the side either in the semi-final, with a convincing 31-7 win over hosts Argentina.
That set up a final with old rivals Australia, with the now veteran Sevens star Lomu joined by Rodney So’oialo, Mils Muliaina and Craig Newby in the starting seven. Lomu was magnificent, scoring a length-of-the-field try as he bashed over Australia’s Brendan Williams as New Zealand went on to win their first World Cup title.
Series titles hat-trick for New Zealand – 2002
New Zealand smashed their way to a hat-trick of Sevens series titles with the most points ever recorded ever by a side in Series history, finishing with 198.
Tietjens and his squad won an eye-watering seven out of the 11 legs of the Series that season, including five out of the last six! In the end they finished a full 62 points clear of the next best team in the competition, South Africa.
They would later that year go on to retain their Commonwealth Games title, with familiar names Chris Masoe and Anthony Tuitavake in their squad, by defeating Fiji once more in the final by a score of 33-15. The New Zealand Sevens side as a result clinched the Team of the Year gong at that year’s NZRU Awards.
Six in a row – 2005
Continuing their remarkably dominant run in the sport, New Zealand made it six straight Series titles in a row with the success in the 2004/2005 Series.
That season’s Series was cut down to just seven legs, held in Dubai, George (South Africa), Wellington, Los Angeles, Singapore, London and Paris.
Four straight wins between George and Singapore allowed New Zealand to not even make the final of the final two tournaments in London and Paris, and yet they still won the title by 18 points, aided by the emergence of the next great New Zealand winger in the shape of Joe Rokocoko.
Second World Cup triumph in Moscow – 2013
New Zealand’s run of success eventually came to an end in 2006, when Fiji triumphed and New Zealand finished alarmingly fourth.
They bounced back with titles in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012, but a World Cup Sevens gap had opened up, with New Zealand missing out in the 2005 final to Fiji and then being surprisingly knocked out in the quarter-finals of the 2009 tournament by eventual winners Wales.
Righting those wrongs in 2013 therefore was paramount, and New Zealand started well by topping Pool D thanks to wins over Canada, Georgia and the United States. Revenge came over Wales in the quarter-finals, winning 26-10, before nilling Fiji in the semi-final to set up a final with England.
There was only going to be one winner, Tim Mikkelson scoring twice in the first half as New Zealand built up a 21-0 lead, before Tomasi Cama, Waisake Naholo and Gillies Kaka all went over too to give Tietjens a second World Cup title.
A final Series win (number 12) – 2014
New Zealand had won the previous three Sevens World Series before what would prove to be their final victory under Tietjens in the competition.
A hat-trick of wins in Hong Kong, Glasgow and London allowed New Zealand to edge away from closest rivals South Africa to finish with a total of 180 points, 28 more than second place.
Gillies Kaka was the team’s key points scorer with 258 while Tim Mikkelson finished with the second most tries in the Series on 33, some way behind Fiji’s Samisoni Viriviri.
What was most impressive about the 12th title under Tietjens was the way New Zealand finished so strongly, scoring over a half century of points in the finals of Glasgow and London over Canada and Australia respectively.