This could be it, says Rush

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 12:00am

All-time sevens great Eric Rush revealed that he could be making his Hong Kong Sevens swan song on Sunday. Rush, who will lead New Zealand in their hunt for a hat-trick of Cup titles at the Credit Suisse First Boston tournament this weekend, is thinking of retiring.

'This could be my last Hong Kong Sevens,' Rush said after the defending champions had a training run at So Kon Po yesterday. 'I hope to make the decision myself. I don't want to be dropped and I know I have the courage to say to myself 'this is it'.'

The 37-year-old sevens legend - the oldest player this weekend - is returning to action at the Hong Kong Stadium after missing out last year through injury. While his aim is to lead New Zealand to a successful defence of their Commonwealth Games gold medal in Manchester this summer, he is also hopeful the Kiwis can win this weekend. Perhaps that might be the most fitting farewell for the maestro.

The ageless Rush has played at 12 Hong Kong Sevens since making his debut in 1988, and also at the 1997 Sevens Rugby World Cup hosted by Hong Kong. An illustrious career is now about to end although his exit from the world stage, when it comes, will most likely be at next year's Wellington Sevens in front of his home crowd.

Last year he watched from the touchlines as Karl Te Nana led New Zealand to victory over Fiji in the Hong Kong Sevens Cup final.

Te Nana later dedicated the victory to Rush saying: 'That one was for Rushie.'

Rush might pay the compliment back on Sunday to the absent Te Nana if New Zealand successfully defend their title and complete an IRB World Sevens Series double having won in Beijing last Sunday. However, he stressed that winning in Hong Kong was going to be much harder.

'I don't think too many of the other teams were much interested in whether they won in Beijing or not. This is the tournament they will be all gunning for. We have got to get Beijing out of our heads if we want to do well. And I feel we are good enough to do that,' Rush said.

As always, Rush said Fiji with the master, Waisale Serevi, would be the team to watch out for even though a host of others, from South Africa to Samoa, are hammering on the door. 'We have always got to be wary of Fiji. This is their playground. They have got a lot of new players who have always dreamed about playing at the Hong Kong Sevens and they are now realising their dreams. That makes them dangerous,' Rush warned.

Even though he has played here more than most others, Rush admitted he too spent much of last year dreaming about the Hong Kong Sevens while on crutches.

'I have only been thinking about the Hong Kong Sevens two or three times a day all last year. It is great to be back and playing this year.'

Rush broke his leg in a horrific accident in a preliminary round match against England at the 2001 Sevens World Cup in Mar Del Plata. Having been out all last year, he is now back and has been a regular in the Kiwi campaign at the 2002 IRB World Sevens Series. New Zealand defeated South Africa 41-14 to win the Beijing Sevens last Sunday. Rush said the side, who features three new faces to Hong Kong - Joe Rokocoko, Anthony Tuitavake and Josh Blackie - had started slowly before picking up the pace on the second day.

'We were pretty average in our opening couple of matches but got better as we went along. It was good to see the young guys play well,' he added.

Rush played down the notion that the Kiwis are clear favourites in Hong Kong, especially after their Beijing success. 'I guess we have to be favourites after last week but I never liked that tag. This is the tournament everyone wants to win and that makes a huge difference.'

The Kiwis have a relatively easy run into Sunday's knockout phase, being grouped with Scotland, Portugal and Sri Lanka, all three teams with a sevens pedigree that should hardly bother the mighty champions. The easy preliminary round will also offer coach Gordon Tietjens the opportunity to blood his three newcomers in.

Tietjens has made it clear to the trio that the conditions in Hong Kong are quite different to that faced in Beijing.

Thankfully, he has a leader who knows what it takes to win in Hong Kong - Rush has played in five Cup-winning teams. Having sipped from the Cup of victory on many occasions, Rush realises that it could be time to pack up his boots.

A victory on Sunday could only hasten his decision. For what better way to sign off than on a winning note.

Jared Going and Chris Masoe sat out yesterday's training session recovering from knocks received at the Beijing Sevens, while Amasio Valence gingerly took part with his right thigh heavily bandaged.

Rodber's Legends - Page 11