Keith Quinn: Paying tribute to Sir Titch

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 24 September 2013
 Keith Quinn: Paying tribute to Sir Titch
Sir Gordon Tietjens shortly after receiving both the London and World Series trophies at Twickenham in May

For 40 years Keith Quinn has written and broadcast about Rugby around the world, and especially in his native New Zealand. He has also commentated on the IRB Sevens World Series since its inception in 1999 and, as a proud kiwi, there is surely nobody better to reflect for on Sir Gordon Tietjens' recent knighthood.

By Keith Quinn

As one who has travelled and toured alongside Sir Gordon Tietjens on the IRB's Sevens circuit for nearly 15 years I see the recent honour of a knighthood for him as a significant and appropriate recognition for his success with his various New Zealand Sevens teams since 1994.

It ought also to be seen as an honour for the further global expansion of the Sevens game.

If you study Gordon's record you might say it is staggering that he has so regularly won tournaments, titles and medals on the world tour. His success has often come despite there being little continuity of selection in his New Zealand teams.
This year, for instance, Gordon coached New Zealand to an 11th World Series win (out of a possible 14) and then his squad added the World Cup title in Moscow. He achieved all of that while using 28 players, which is a staggeringly high turnover rate and more than two full Sevens squads, with 12 players selected for each round.

The way things happen in New Zealand rugby is this: as the best Sevens players shine they are quickly 'promoted' into fully professional 15-a-side teams. That means the national Sevens team has continually evolved.

The one unfailing presence has been that of the coach.

Tietjens has never complained, though, at the cards dealt to him. For him there was real pleasure this year at seeing Charles Piutau picked as the 39th All Black who has come to prominence firstly through his Sevens team ranks.

The Tietjens way

Gordon is famous for being highly particular in his pre-match detail. He commands a level of fitness from his players which other world Sevens coaches, who keenly watch the Tietjens methods, try to match but never do. As a result the chosen New Zealand players in his teams know that their trips to tournaments in exotic places are definitely no vacation. The players are trained to the max before they leave New Zealand, then once they arrive in places like Las Vegas, Dubai or the Gold Coast there is no taking a towel to lounge by the pool or sample the nightlife. Instead they live under the shadow and sometimes fear of 'Titch's' famous training sessions.

But in return he offers them total affection and belief. To hear him talk about 'Rushie' or 'Dallas' or 'Moodjie' (Eric Rush, Dallas Seymour and Amasio Valence) from his earlier teams is always in unswerving fondness and praise. Of the modern era his admiration for 'DJ', 'Tomasi' or 'Tim' (Forbes, Cama and Mikkelson) is just as unwavering.

Another aspect of Tietjens' greatness is the exacting demands he repeatedly places on others to match up to his own commitment. It has been humorous for us of the media on occasion to watch him enter the tournament breakfast rooms in some highly-rated hotel and approach what is on offer for breakfast or lunch. Such is his search for dietary perfection, he has been known to firmly ask staff to change the consistency or temperature of the mashed potatoes!

Tactician and dietician

Another time I saw his full squad - after playing well but narrowly losing a final, and not having another event to play for a month - sit glumly around an after-match table not daring to touch a plate of delicious looking cheeseburgers. Because 'Titch' wouldn't have approved!

On behalf of the regular commentators on the IRB circuit I must add a personal note of thanks to Titch. Whenever myself or Nigel Starmer-Smith, Wyn Gruffydd, Willie Lose, Seb Lauzier or Scott Hastings have asked him to stop for a minute to check a fact or offer an opinion on a New Zealand player Titch never has once hesitated. As a result we are better broadcasters when his teams play.

The NZRU this year attached the words 'All Blacks' to the New Zealand Sevens team. In itself that was a mark of regard to the efforts of what Sir Gordon Tietjens has built with the team over the years.

The next major mark on the Sevens global horizon is its Summer Olympic Games debut in 2016. As Titch is already contracted to be there, I have no doubt he will be the same man in Rio. He will be sitting on the sidelines in his black tracksuit, craftily watching all the games, tapping his nose with his finger as the action unfolds and writing mysterious jottings in an ever-crumpling notebook.

The only difference will be that, from now on, he will have a new mark of distinction next to his name - the knighthood - which I hope takes the game he loves so deeply to a higher level of regard.

IRB Hall of Fame - Inductee No. 49: Sir Gordon Tietjens