x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The leader of the pack

It's tough going for New Zealand squad and coach Tietjens has no intention of easing up on his relentless training methods.

New Zealand's captain DJ Forbes holds the trophy aloft as he celebrates with teammates after beating Fiji 31-21 in last year's final in Dubai.
New Zealand's captain DJ Forbes holds the trophy aloft as he celebrates with teammates after beating Fiji 31-21 in last year's final in Dubai.

DUBAI // If the chasing pack ever hoped eight IRB World Series titles in nine seasons would be enough to mellow the New Zealand coach, Gordon Tietjens, they can think again. Tietjens has forged one of the most impressive coaching CVs in all of sport since taking control of the New Zealand sevens team 14 years ago.

His reputation has been founded on his relentless training methods, and he admits that, rather than easing up on his players as he gets older, he is becoming more sadistic. The ferocity of one of his drills, known simply as "Death" to the players, forced one to the brink of unconsciousness during a training session on Tuesday. "It is a tough game," Tietjens, 52, said of the continuous touch rugby drill he invented. "We played it in training and one of my players went very, very faint in the heat and had to stop training. It is about testing them physically, but also mentally - that is where I really challenge my players. I'm not mellowing - it wins tournaments. I have never mellowed, you have to be very fit, you have to make massive nutritional sacrifices.

"I am very strict in terms of protocols that are set, and that makes a good side. They buy into that. "No rugby player would ever make my side if they weren't required to do the physical side." The coach launched the careers of some of the game's greatest players via his sevens side - many, such as Jonah Lomu, from notably humble beginnings. In a classic case of Tietjens one-downmanship, he claims the squad he has brought to Dubai this week, which contains five key players from last term's record-breaking crop, are "underrated".

New Zealand will be defending the Dubai crown they won at the Exiles last year, after England and South Africa shared the title between them in the past four years. Tietjens said: "It is a massive challenge. We have an underrated team this year, even though we have won it [the IRB World Series] eight years out of nine. "We have got seven new players, some are very young and it is going to be very tough. That is why I keep going, because I am dealing with new players all the time. It is great to see all those other players move on to bigger things, and securing their future in some cases."

pradley@thenational.ae