Last year, Editor Stuart MacLennan was lucky enough to grab a quick word with sevens coaching icon Sir Gordon Tietjens ahead of the Melrose Sevens. Here’s what he had to say, 25 years after a triumphant afternoon at The Greenyards.
If Melrose is the undisputed birthplace of sevens rugby, then Gordon Tietjens is the greatest of all coaches to have been involved in the abbreviated form of the game. The All Blacks 7s chief is the most decorated man in the game’s history, landing an outrageous 12 World Series titles since their inaugural season back in 1999.
Gordon also led his country to Commonwealth Games Gold in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010, and three years ago was made a Knight Companion of The New Zealand Order Of Merit, representing as impressive a coaching resume as one could find the world over.
It may come as something of a surprise, but Gordon’s golden path to rugby coaching immortality began in Melrose back in 1992, when he took his Bay of Plenty side there to compete and eventually triumph at the oldest sevens tournament of them all.
Casting his mind all the way back to that famous day over two decades ago, the man known as ‘Titch’ said: “It was my first real win as a sevens coach and I guess it played a huge part in me getting the All Blacks job, where I’ve been for 24 years now.
“We were the first team from New Zealand to win at Melrose so it’ll always be special to me, and I remember Bill McLaren coming down to our training sessions so he could learn how to pronounce the players’ names as a couple of them were Maori. Bill would actually commentate on our training to get used to the team and it struck me how committed he was to his job.
“We managed to beat Kelso in the final that year and they had some great players like Adam Roxburgh and John Jeffrey, and I remember it being tough going. I would absolutely love to go back to Melrose one day with a Bay of Plenty team and as my career starts to come to an end, it would be great to finish the cycle so to speak.”
It is of course a huge year for the shortened form of the game, with Olympic Gold in Rio de Janeiro the prize all teams are aspiring to, and New Zealand have added some fresh impetus to the squad, as Gordon explained: “You can be a great player in other formats but that doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to sevens. Someone like Sonny Bill Williams has come in and adapted very quickly, understanding the different parts of sevens and he’s going to be very good.
“There are a few players on the circuit from Scotland that I like, and the team is improving all the time under Calum [MacRae]. They’re generally very hard to beat with a strong structure and with a couple of breakthrough performances they can be a very good team.
“It takes a bit of time after someone like Colin Gregor retires but they’re still continuing to push a lot of teams on the sevens circuit.”
It would be remiss to chat to Titch and not mention Scotland national team Head Coach Vern Cotter, with whom he has a few links: “Vern and I actually played a little together, and he was in the development team when I moved on from Bay of Plenty.
“I coached them for six years and I remember we almost won the Ranfurly Shield as a second division team which hadn’t been done before. We lost something like 30-29 to a Graham Henry-coached Auckland late on, with Shade Munro a stand-out performer for us.
“Vern took over and actually won the Shield with Bay of Plenty in 2004 which was a fine achievement, and I think he’s doing a great job with Scotland now.”
Might they join forces to coach a Bay of Plenty side at Melrose one day in the future?