Gordon Tietjens predicts bright future for Challenger pacesetters China

China currently sit on top of the women’s World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024 standings with a perfect 40 points and their high-performance consultant has been impressed with what he’s seen.

What Gordon Tietjens doesn’t know about rugby sevens probably isn’t worth knowing.

The World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee is the most decorated coach in the history of the shortened format, having overseen New Zealand’s men’s programme for more than two decades.

Between 1994-2016, Tietjens led the All Blacks Sevens to two Rugby World Cup Sevens titles, four Commonwealth Games gold medals and 12 world series crowns while providing a launch pad for future test greats, including Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Julian Savea.

So, when he speaks in glowing terms about a team, it is worth taking note. And, having worked as a high-performance consultant to China’s women’s sevens programme, Tietjens has no doubt about the potential the team possesses.

“What’s really impressed me with the [China] girls is their skill set,” Tietjens said.

“They’re incredible passing off both hands, they’ve got a vision for the game, spatial awareness and they’re good athletes.

“It’s really promising when you’re looking forward.”

Handling the pressure

China fans might not have to wait too long to experience success, however, as the team are currently in the midst of what could be a year to remember.

With Tietjens providing his considerable insight and his former All Blacks Sevens charge, Rocky Khan acting as an assistant coach to Lu Zhuan, the team has made a perfect start to the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024.

Six victories from six took them to the title at the opening tournament in Dubai in January and although they lost their first match in Montevideo two months later, China rallied to win their second successive gold medal – sealing it with a comprehensive 38-7 defeat of Argentina in the final.

It means that with one tournament to play, in Krakow this weekend, China will make sure of their place in the HSBC SVNS Play-off tournament in Madrid as long as they make the quarter-finals at Henryk Reyman’s Municipal Stadium.

“For China, it’s [about] getting them into the world series and operating on the big stage, in front of a world audience,” Tietjens added.

“And they’re handling the pressure, which is surprising me… I’m blown away.”

Khan, who represented New Zealand on the series between 2013-18, paid tribute to the players’ work ethic.

“They put a lot of effort into training and into the recoveries and trying to get better; day in, day out,” Khan said.

“They always want to become the best, so I’m just so stoked that they played well [in Montevideo] and hopefully we can keep it up.”

Olympic dream

Barring a calamitous drop off in results in Poland, China will travel to Madrid at the end of this month to compete against the bottom four finishers from HSBC SVNS 2024 for a place in next year’s series.

Following that tournament, the squad will head to Monaco to compete in the World Rugby Sevens Repechage with the final place at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 on the line from 21-23 June.

Coincidentally, China – who made their Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 – have been drawn to play Czechia in the pool stage in both Krakow and Monaco, while they are the form team set to compete in the repechage given no SVNS core teams are taking part.

“Their dream is to go to the Olympics,” Tietjens said. “We’ve got one tournament to do that, and it’s really tough.

“In my view, I think more important is to get them into the world series so they can play a higher level of sevens rugby. Then you’ll really start to see them improve as athletes.

“Also, I believe that will give more exposure for other athletes in China to make themselves available to make the sevens team.”

Before they can think of Paris, though, China have a job to do in Krakow, where they will play Hong Kong China and Thailand as well as Czechia in Pool A.

And despite their impressive results in Dubai and Montevideo, the coaching group know they cannot afford to stand still in their quest for SVNS and Olympic qualification.

“You’re always trying to get better,” Khan concluded.

“Even [in Montevideo] I felt a lot of teams had improved. The challenge for us heading into the next round is to see what we can do to improve and get better and hopefully have a good result again in Poland.”

See the HSBC SVNS champions crowned in Madrid, 31 May-2 June. Tickets from €10 are available to purchase here