NEW Zealand selectors have been forced to tread water - for a week - as the country's star sevens player Eric Rush is serving out a suspension and is presently not eligible for selection for national duty in defence of their Hong Kong Sevens title.
All Black selectors Laurie Mains, Earle Kirton and Ross Cooper, forsook tradition and did not pick the squad bound for Hong Kong at the end of the National Sevens Championships in Palmerston North yesterday.
They have instead named a 14-man squad (including Rush) which will be pruned to become the 10-strong Hong Kong Sevens team, after this weekend's Suva Sevens in Fiji.
The Kiwi selectors were forced to take this course of action as Rush, who was suspended for two weeks at the end of last season for being involved in a punch-up in the Grand Championship final between Auckland and North Harbour, will only return to action next Monday.
Rush, arguably one of the finest sevens players the world has seen, is presently serving his suspension.
And the All Black selectors, thinking it inappropriate to name a suspended player in a representative team, have decided to delay naming their Hong Kong Sevens squad.
The star treatment afforded Rush comes as no surprise.
A dynamic forward in sevens rugby, Rush captained the team which last year defeated Australia in the Cup final.
The North Harbour player is also widely tipped to win a place in New Zealand's World Cup squad - as a winger.
Unlike most other countries, who are not sending their key players to this year's Hong Kong Sevens due to the May-June World Cup in South Africa, New Zealand's rugby selectors have not banned their top players from playing here on March 25-26.
Apart from Rush, another player regarded as a certainty to play at full-back for New Zealand in their World Cup campaign and who is bound for Hong Kong is Glen Osborne.
Osborne, last year's Best-and-Fairest player at the Hong Kong Sevens, is carrying an ankle injury. And like Rush, he has been sidelined and will not play in the Suva Sevens.
As only 10 players can represent each country, New Zealand have put Rush, Osborne, and Bay of Plenty's Martin Jones and Bradley Thomas on standby. They will all be considered for Hong Kong, but realistically only Rush and Osborne are certainties.
The New Zealand sevens squad for Fiji will be captained by Hong Kong Sevens veteran Dallas Seymour.
The talking point after yesterday's National Sevens championships was the inclusion of Fijian Joeli Vidiri and the unexpected return of Scott Pierce from Japan.
Vidiri played for Fiji at last year's Hong Kong Sevens. The winger, however, has taken the place of countryman Luke Erenavalu (who played for New Zealand last year in the Hong Kong Sevens, but has since moved over to rugby league in Australia) in the Counties team. Vidiri's inclusion in the 14-man Hong Kong Sevens squad has raised the controversial topic of dual nationality once again.
Pierce, meanwhile, has played the past three seasons in Japan. Currently on a six-week holiday in New Zealand, Pierce turned up to play for North Harbour yesterday, and has obviously caught the eye of the selectors.
The national sevens tournament was won by Counties, who defeated Auckland 29-12 in the final.
New Zealand: Dallas Seymour (capt, Hawkes Bay), Eric Rush (North Harbour), Glen Osborne (North Harbour), Jonah Lomu (Counties), Andrew Blowers (Auckland), Scott Pierce (North Harbour), Adrian Cashmore (Auckland), Joeli Vidiri (Counties), Roger Randle (Hawkes Bay), Joe Tauiwi (Bay of Plenty), Christian Cullen (Manawatu), Peter Woods (North Harbour), Martin Jones (Bay of Plenty), Bradley Fleming (Bay of Plenty).