Kiwis cope with life after Lomu

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 1997, 12:00am

'Where's Lomu?' asked the tiny tot at Happy Valley as New Zealand went through their first training steps last Sunday in front of a packed audience of parents and children from the Hong Kong Football Club's mini-rugby section.

The question was raised innocently. But it will be weighing on the minds of the New Zealand sevens brains trust of coach Gordon Tietjens and captain Eric Rush as they prepare to take on the world today.

Is there life after Jonah Lomu? Tietjens says 'Yes'. But he has also admitted that it will be very difficult for the New Zealanders to continue their recent dominance - they have won the past three Hong Kong Sevens.

'There are a lot of young players in the side and they all look promising. You may be pleasantly surprised,' said Tietjens.

Was there a hopeful note in his voice? Hmmm, maybe.

Considering that the Kiwis will also be missing last year's Player of the Tournament Christian Cullen, Bradley Fleming and Fijians Joeli Vidiri and Waisake Masirewa. Losing five of the world's best sevens players in one go is a big blow which even New Zealand will find hard to absorb.

Rush readily admits that it will be a big task to win the World Cup.

'The biggest challenge is that more than half our side is made up of young inexperienced guys. It will be a wonderful experience for them, but I'm under no illusions.

'We came to win and not finish second. But whether our best will be good enough . . . we will only know on Sunday,' said Rush. 'It is a brand new team. You just can't replace guys like Lomu and Cullen. It will be a big ask.' This tournament will be Rush's 10th consecutive appearance in Hong Kong. On his shoulders will lie the responsibility of guiding New Zealand into the final. Once there, anything can happen.

'Last year we just defeated Fiji to win the Cup final. This was with a stronger team . . . so you can see the task in front of us,' said Rush, not without relish.

Yes, the Kiwis will be as competitive as ever, and will be spoiling for a fight.

Mastermind Tietjens has already decided what course of action to take in the absence of man mountain Lomu whose massive physical presence was the key to the Kiwis winning the last three Hong Kong Sevens.

'We will have to lessen the contact situations. We won't be going out there looking for confrontation.

'It will all be about retaining possession and using the fitness of our players to our advantage,' said Tietjens.

Meanwhile, to answer that tiny tot's question, Lomu will be behind an ITV microphone, commentating on the progress of his teammates.