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Tietjens wants more players to consider Sevens

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Sportal.co.nz     17 Mar 2014     Getty Images

His world champion side are off to the latest tournament in the IRB Series, in Japan, this weekend and were looking to hold off the threat from South Africa who are chasing them hard for the overall title.

Tietjens said South Africa was no different to New Zealand. They were a passionate nation about rugby and they were looking to Sevens as a development tool for the 15-a-side form of the game.

"They lose their players [to Super Rugby] just like us but at the moment they are two points shy of us in the World Series and they are pushing us all the way," he said.

The fact that Fiji, the perennial rivals, were 20 points behind did not mean they could be ruled out. They could win the last four tournaments, he said, and with their advantages of depth it was often just a case for them of getting their selection mix right.

"For us it is about trying to grow the game even moreso and to attract more players because I don't believe there are enough players out there at the moment putting their hands up to be All Blacks Sevens players," he said.

Tietjens said the type of athlete required for Sevens was changing and that was the reason he was taking a big, tall side to Japan and Hong Kong for the latest tournaments.

"They're very athletic and that is the way the game is going," he said.

Added to that was advancing years and injury woes which have contributed to stalwarts Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula missing the latest side.

However, there were good players coming through and Sevens could be a good opportunity to catch the eye of Super Rugby and All Blacks selectors.

Tietjens said it was hard when players were at the end of their careers. They had a lot of the intellectual property that had contributed so much to the team's success.

"It [retirement, forced or otherwise] happens in all forms of the sport in fifteens and in sevens. There comes a time when you have got to hang the boots up and someone else is going to come along.

"It's happened over the years from Eric Rush who was still playing for me at the age of 39. That was quite amazing really but Rushy, as he should have, went out in a blaze of glory.

"There comes a time when players know they can't keep up and our sport is really demanding. The fitness levels and conditioning levels are huge so when you get a little bit older you start getting a little bit slower and you are not as agile as you would like so sometimes when you make that call it is part of rugby," he said.

With all players he looks at how they are adjusting to the conditioning levels they needed to be at.

"What I'm finding in Sevens is that a lot of them just leaving school, as young as they are, have all the natural ability and talent but have never really been pushed, or self-motivated, to train and that's where they get found out,

"So for any of those youngsters out there who aspire to be Sevens players, it is really important they have the hunger to get out and train, and train hard," he said.

Other changes in Sevens have been the prospect of Olympic competition and one of the signs of this is the far greater analysis done.

"Years ago you never did the analysis, you never had it, and you relied on one or two players with the X-factor to win you tournaments but so much analysis is done on those players with the X-factors that is a real team game now because there are six or seven teams that could win any tournament.

"We set the benchmark once with Fiji but now there are five or six others out there who can win. So it makes it tough.

"The most ruthless thing, the hardest thing, about Sevens now is that it can come down to one defining moment which can either win or lose the game. [If you lose it] You just don't have the time on your side to get it back."

Tietjens said it was possible to cover that prospect in training by looking at worst-case scenarios but he felt the desperate moments, when it was required to play the ball through a number of other phases at crucial times to win games, came down to fitness levels.

That was why he made his training regime so tough because he wasn't only working on players' physical capabilities but their mental approach as well, he said.