Te Nana: All Blacks needed change
Kiwi star talks up Tietjens impact, but believes new coach Laidlaw will bring about fresh ideas
He remembers the training sessions vividly: the stopwatch, the whistle, the intense workouts and even the suppressed anger.
Despite the Decepticon insignia on his earlobes, Karl Te Nana was nothing like the tough-talking villains of the Transformers when handling the anger when Gordon Tietjens drove players to their breaking point during training.
Te Nana directed none of the built-up vitriol at the former All Blacks sevens coach - and neither did any of the players.
While Tietjens' post-Olympics departure was a loss for New Zealand, Te Nana believes the All Blacks needed a change that has now come in the form of Scot Clark Laidlaw.
"We got angry, but we'd never direct it at (Tietjens), because then he'd punish us more - we learnt pretty quick not to do that," said Te Nana, who is in town for the Heroes in the Making Programme that will see two young Singaporean players train in New Zealand.
"You hated doing the training but, with the results, you couldn't help but have respect for the man. That's probably why Gordon's players would lie down in traffic for him."
Tietjens is the most successful sevens coach of all time, leading the All Blacks to 12 World Series titles, two World Cup wins and four Commonwealth Games gold medals.
He left after a failed bid at the Olympics and has now joined Samoa.
"Sometimes people change for the sake of change, but New Zealand rugby sevens needed it," said Te Nana, who captained the All Blacks to the 2001 World Cup victory under Tietjens.
"The time was ripe for a change and fresh ideas."
New Zealand started their Olympic campaign under Tietjens by losing to Japan in the group stage. But, while they survived the group, they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual champions Fiji.
While Te Nana believes fatigue eventually got to the All Blacks at the Olympics, he would not discount the fact that there has been much improvement in the game worldwide.
"It's an Olympic sport and a lot of teams put the effort in, and get the training regimen right, and that's made everyone come to a closer level," said the 41-year-old, who has scored 113 tries for the All Blacks.
"Legitimately, five or six teams can win any tournament now and that's a positive thing. The way it played out in Singapore (last year) is one of the examples - and it's great.
"Who wants to turn up knowing that New Zealand or Fiji are going to win it?"
Kenya won the Singapore leg of last year's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, with the tournament returning to the Singapore Sports Hub next April.
Even with Olympic gold medallist Jerry Tuwai in the squad, Fiji's Daveta were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the recent Singapore Cricket Club International Rugby Sevens won by the England Academy.
Speaking to local media on the sidelines of the Saint Andrew's Village, Te Nana believes that Singapore could also do well in the sevens game, his confidence coming from watching young players since he arrived on Friday.
"I've been surprisingly impressed by the level of skills of the boys here - it's very similar to New Zealand," said Te Nana, who was also impressed by how quickly the boys absorbed and applied points raised during training sessions.
He is supposed to help pick two youngsters to train in New Zealand as part of the Heroes in the Making Programme, but he reveals that he has at least six players he is keeping his eye on.
While Singapore could possibly match New Zealand at the youth level of rugby, making the transition to the senior level would not be easy.
He said: "The tough thing is to carry on, to upskill themselves, keep going up and playing high-level hard games."
- From now till Dec 31, two-day season passes for adults ($120 for Category 1 and $40 for Category 2) for the 2017 HSBC Singapore Sevens are 20 per cent lower than the general sale period from Jan 1, 2017. To mark the launch of the revamped website www.singapore7s.sg, organisers are offering the first 5,000 Category 1 ticket buyers a free HSBC Singapore Sevens commemorative T-shirt. This offer is valid from Oct 17 to Dec 31 while stocks last.
Sometimes people change for the sake of change, but I think New Zealand rugby sevens needed it. The time was ripe for a change and fresh ideas.
— All Blacks star Karl Te Nana on Clark Laidlaw replacing the great Gordon Tietjens as coach of New Zealand