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Bay of Plenty sevens expert Gordon Tietjens takes his first NZ team to Fiji. They didn't win the tournament there but Tietjens stayed coach for 20-plus years
Otago and New Zealand
51 internationals for New Zealand 1997-2002
The talented New Zealand utility loose forward, who sadly, might be remembered more as the man who had the unenviable job of returning home after being the captain of the beaten All Blacks at the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Such a summary is totally unfair as Randell’s team left for the Cup with excessive expectations from the New Zealand public, and it belies the fact that Randell was a top international forward right through his playing career. It is just that by various All Black selectors he was shunted though three loose forward positions and not ever being allowed to settle in one.
Randell came into the All Blacks on the 1995 tour of France, and within 12 months on the 1996 tour of South Africa he had become a 21 year old captain of the midweek New Zealand team. By 1997 he made his test debut against Fiji at Albany Stadium at North Shore, Auckland. That year, in a gruelling sequence at the time, he played in all 12 tests on the All Blacks programme. One of those was as a number eight forward, the others as a blindside flanker. In the next year the All Black coach John Hart elevated him to the test captaincy. At 23 years old he was the fourth youngest leader in All Black history. He played the first five of those tests as a number eight but was then shuffled back to the flanker’s role.
Initially the captaincy sat kindly on Randell’s shoulders. But as a sequence of defeats crept in, rather than blame the older players, it was the young captain who took the rap from the public. He seemed to lose confidence and, at times, composure.
In 1999, World Cup year, the New Zealand public believed that the spirit of the All Blacks would come through again and young Randell was again charged with leading the team, with the massive trust again on his shoulders.
The All Blacks reached the semi-finals against France at Twickenham but there the New Zealanders world came crashing down. France won 43-31. In Britain (and France no doubt!) the game is remembered as one of the greatest ever seen at Twickenham; in New Zealand it was seen as a national disaster. And heads had to roll. Coach John Hart resigned as soon as the Cup series was over. Randell had to wait till new coach Wayne Smith decided if he wanted to retain him or not. Smith did, but not with the captaincy. Todd Blackadder was preferred instead. The leadership was wrenched away from Randell who had to publicly face the wrath and scorn of the public.
He played most of the season in the team however and after the departure of Smith as coach, (replaced by John Mitchell), and injuries to two further All Black leaders (Anton Oliver and Rueben Thorne) Randell was restored as captain for the late season tour to Europe in 2002. By then, at 28 years old, Randell was a much more mature person and to most people’s delight he handled things well. In the game against France at Paris he became one of the small band of All Blacks who in those times had passed 50 test match appearances.
Who was the first All Black captain to be red or yellow carded in a test match?