Hong Kong Sevens

World Cup champion knows Wright from wrong

Former All Black, now a house husband in Hong Kong, believes professionalism will take sport to the next level

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 2:17pm

Former All Blacks World Cup winner Terry Wright knows a thing or two about finance, and though he pines for the days when rugby was strictly amateur, he insists the boost Hong Kong's sevens team will receive when they join the Sports Institute next month can only be a good thing.

Wright moved to Hong Kong two years ago, and although long since retired from competitive rugby he still has his finger on the pulse.

"My international career finished a couple of years before professionalism started, but in my heart I still cling to the belief that sport should be played by amateurs," said Wright. "Having said that, the additional funding will allow the Hong Kong players to be fully paid professionals, which in turn will allow them to reach a higher performance standard.

"This will also give other players more motivation to aspire to the team, if they feel there is a career there. And it also allows the HKRFU to free up funding to other parts of the sevens game or to other areas of rugby.

"Hong Kong have in the past had the occasional moment where they've knocked over a mid-tier team, but they do struggle with size, and the size of their players is probably proportionate to the pool of players they're drawing from.

"It's much harder for them to compete in a scrum or a lineout against the major nations because they haven't got the same physical size. In sevens they can pick quick guys who've got good ball sense and can be competitive without having the absolute physicality of some of the other teams, but size does matter."

Wright, who gave up his job as a chartered accountant to support his wife's banking career and to become a "house husband", won 30 caps for New Zealand, the highlight winning the World Cup in 1987 on his home ground in Auckland.

And because of his speed he was also a fixture in the New Zealand sevens team - although he's not sure he would survive nowadays under the brutal training regimes.

"I played six or seven times in Hong Kong before they built the new stadium," he said. "I was captain of the New Zealand team the last two years I played here.

"I quite liked the old stadium - the atmosphere was fantastic. As a player you could peel off your kit, pull on an anonymous T-shirt and just walk around. One or two people might recognise you but you could just wander around and drift with the crowd, and then sit up in the south stand and get the feel of what the spectators were seeing.

"All the weaker teams were mixed in with the stronger teams back then. We used to play against teams such as Brunei and Tunisia, but they wouldn't have wanted it any other way, even though they knew they were on a hiding to nothing. They wanted to play against the black shirts; who they considered to be the best in the world."

Wright believes sevens' inclusion in the 2016 Olympics will make it even more internationally popular.

"If it survives [past] 2016 I think it will be OK," he said. "It's all about money nowadays. Players have to make their national sides because that's how you make your name and reputation.

"I think we'll see the biggest impact at the end of 2014-15 because a lot of players now are very good professional players and making a lot of money, and they will ask the question, what can I do in rugby that I haven't already done?

"To win a gold medal for New Zealand, for example, you will have to take a pay cut. You will have to submit to coach Gordon Tietjens' training regime, which will run you into the ground.

"One of the reasons that sevens is not allowed to take players from the Super 15s is that sevens is a different style of rugby, where you take a different mind set and play different patterns to 15-a-side rugby.

"But, to get his players lean and have the ability to go flat out for seven minutes and then stop and do it all over again for another seven minutes, Tietjens will strip seven or eight kilos of body-mass off those Super 15 players, just to give them the ability to go flat out.

"With 15-a-side rugby being such a contact, impact-driven sport, it's all about collision, and if you lose seven or eight kilos it makes you less competitive. Unfortunately, 15s is no longer a stamina thing because you've got 22 or 23 players. You can bring on subs when your big tank in the midfield is running out of gas and put another one on.

"Gordon wants guys in there who will dig deep. The guy who will win you the game is not necessarily the Jonah Lumu who would knock over two or three guys on his way to the try line. That is very helpful, but it could be the guy who pulls everything out and nails that guy in the corner and prevents the other team from scoring a try."