HSBC Singapore Rugby 7s

Rugby: Tietjens still sets title win as target

Head coach of Samoa Gordon Tietjens speaking to reporters ahead of the Singapore Rugby Sevens tournament in Singapore, on April 11, 2017.
Head coach of Samoa Gordon Tietjens speaking to reporters ahead of the Singapore Rugby Sevens tournament in Singapore, on April 11, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

Now coaching Samoa, Kiwi legend insists any team can beat anyone for world series title

A year ago, Gordon Tietjens led hot favourites New Zealand to the inaugural HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens Series, only for the All Blacks to crash out in the quarter-finals to South Africa.

This year, the renowned 61-year-old returns to the Republic as coach of the less-fancied Samoa side - and he believes his charges have a shot at winning the April 15-16 Singapore leg.

All because, he reasoned, the nature of today's sevens game means "on any given day, any team can beat any team".

Speaking to media at the official launch of the tournament at the National Stadium yesterday, Tietjens added: "We saw Kenya win (in Singapore) last year, and if you look at last year's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments, New Zealand and Fiji each won three, while Kenya, Scotland and South Africa each won once.

"The target (for Samoa) heading into Singapore is about giving our new, younger players experience on the world series, but we're coming in to win it - no question about that."

Tietjens assumed his role as Samoa coach at the beginning of the year after a decorated 22-year stint with the All Blacks, during which they won 12 world series titles and four Commonwealth Games golds.

While he admitted Samoa has a "challenging pool" at the tournament, with Australia, Argentina and defending champions Kenya in the same group , he is encouraged by their performance at last week's Hong Kong Sevens.

There, they posted narrow losses to pedigreed sides Australia (19-22) and England (10-12).

"We had some good performances in Hong Kong - we played really well with two close games against England and Australia," said Tietjens, who is aiming to lead Samoa to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and next year's Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.

"We've got three tough games in Singapore; there are no easy matches in the game of sevens."

Tietjens is "pretty sure" Kenya are targeting a second Singapore crown, saying: "They're a good side (with) some wonderful players ... Collins Injera is an outstanding player - he's very quick and he brings a lot to the Kenyan team."

Injera was last year's HSBC Player of the Final in Singapore after leading Kenya to a surprise 30-7 victory over Fiji, and said: "We are pumped up by history, but we will have to take it one game at a time.

"Our first game against Argentina is very crucial for us. If we try and win the momentum from the first game, we will have a good flow over the rest of the tournament."

Kenya are 11th in the current series standings with 47 points, with South Africa (145), Fiji (122) and England (113) occupying the top three positions.

Seven of the 12 players in Kenya's team this season are new, and Injera said: "The boys are pumped up; the other guys who are coming in are really psyched up and they really want to get it going.

"This is our kind of weather that we like, so the mood in the camp is quite upbeat and we're looking forward to this weekend."

Twelfth-placed France, who open their Singapore campaign against England, are also aiming for a good start.

They were last in Pool B at the Hong Kong Sevens last week, and captain Pierre-Gilles Lakafia said: "The Hong Kong tournament was pretty hard for us ... So against big teams such as South Africa and England (in Singapore), we want to make sure our team go stronger."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Tietjens still sets title win as target'. Print Edition | Subscribe