It’s undeniable that today’s Wellington Sevens is a day hardcore Manu Samoa Sevens fans have been waiting for.
Since the announcement of Sir Gordon Tietjens as the coach of the national team, the local rugby faithful have been praying earnestly for this day to arrive.
And so this afternoon the men in blue will run out to the Westpac Stadium with the veteran coaching guru, arguably the most successful rugby coach on the planet, as the man barking out instructions.
Needless to say, the expectations from all corners of the world in as far as Samoa goes are pretty high. Fans are no doubt expecting miracles. Some have gone as far as to suggest the men in blue should take out this weekend’s tournament.
This is where we beg to differ. While we agree that it’s an exciting time for the Manu Samoa, possibly the beginning of a new era, to expect Tietjens to work miracles overnight would be rather foolish.
Don’t get us wrong. Like most people, expect a much improved performance if what’s been said is to go by. Throughout the week, we’ve been hearing that the Manu Samoa is a lot fitter which is good because ultimately a fit team can do much more on the field than one that’s not.
But fitness alone cannot win tournaments. It takes a lot more and that for Samoa will take time. Which is why it would be wise to keep our expectations to a minimum and let Tietjens and his boys prove us wrong.
By all means, they might go out and win it tomorrow. Who knows?
But that’s unlikely to happen. This team is a work in progress and we have not even moved from square one. For the past few months, Stephen Betham and Tietjens have been doing the best they can to rebuild the team.
You don’t need to look any further than the team that has been named for this weekend to know that this is a rebuilding phase. And Tietjens has stamped his mark quite early by selecting a few players most of us would not have picked as well as dropping others we would have named in that team without a second thought. Ed Fidow is a classic example.
But that’s the trademark of Tietjens as a coach, one who has been hugely successful in doing what he does. Obviously he knows best and let’s hope he’s got this one right.
Come to think of it, if anyone has been hyping up the excitement levels, it’s definitely not Tietjens or Betham. Heading into today’s tournament, they are very realistic about the challenge.
“It’s a big challenge being back in Wellington,” Tietjens said. “I suppose if you look back to when I stepped down from the New Zealand team after 22 years I thought that was it and now all of a sudden I find myself here with Samoa at the Wellington Sevens. It’s a great challenge and I feel really energised for it. I’ve coached a lot of young Samoans over the years and it’s always been a pleasure coaching them.
“It’s early days but we have worked incredibly hard over the last three or four weeks so hopefully it will be a good game.”
Over the past three weeks Tietjens has been introducing his methods to the Samoa set-up, basing the team in New Zealand to start building a culture of high performance.
All areas of the game have been put under the microscope of arguably the sport’s most fastidious head coach and with his first tournament on the horizon there have been two key areas in Tietjens’ eyes to focus on.
“If they make shifts in two areas, in nutrition and fitness, then they will certainly cut it in the game,” he said. “They know how to play the game. Bringing them to New Zealand, we’ve been here for three weeks, is to learn all about what high performance is.
“In Samoa, they understand the game, the physicality of it is never questioned but it’s the speed and intensity of the game that they have got to get used to, to compete in the world series.”
Well there you have it. These things don’t change overnight. It’s going to take time, lots of hard work and patience. Speaking of patience, it something that needs to apply to both Tietjens and our expectations.
It doesn’t get any easier when your first tournament involves New Zealand, U.S.A and France as your pool games. Talk about the ultimate test for Tietjens.
We wish them well for the Wellington Sevens.
Have a great weekend Samoa, God bless!