World Cups provide mixed memories for NZ
March 15, 2005

This weekend in Hong Kong, New Zealand can become the first two-time World Cup sevens champions. Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA looks back on a mixed bag of results at the first three tournaments.

In pain, flying from Argentina to Auckland for an operation on his broken leg -- Eric Rush heard the news he was dreading most.

"Mate, we've beaten you guys in the final," the Australian doctor accompanying him on the flight said.

Before Rush could let out an expletive the doctor owned up. He was joking. The pilot had phoned back to Mar Del Plata, where New Zealand had just beaten Australia 31-12 to win the 2001 sevens World Cup.

Jonah Lomu stormed over for three of New Zealand's five tries in the final and then dedicated the win to his great mate and sevens legend Rush, who suffered the injury less than 24 hours earlier in pool play.

Reflecting on New Zealand's only World Cup title in three attempts, Rush says he felt uncomfortable when he heard there was a "do it for Rushie" theme on the final day.

"The only time I felt emotional was when the boys farewelled me that morning with a haka in the foyer of the hotel," he says.

"It didn't matter about me. We won and that was all that mattered.

"Jonah obviously got angry and started destroying people."

The final was effectively decided in the opening minute when Lomu cruised 70m for a try, ending New Zealand's bleak run in the first two tournaments at Edinburgh in 1993 and Hong Kong in 1997.

Rush was involved in all three, delighted when the growing popularity of the abbreviated game saw the introduction of the first World Cup, six years after the 15-a-side code.

The logical first venue was Scotland, where sevens is thought to have originated in 1883.

However, the tournament was poorly attended, played in a cold and wet, half-built Murrayfield.

The surprise winners were England, featuring newcomers like Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Dawson, who went on to become the only players to win World Cups in both forms of rugby.

But it was their relatively unknown winger Andrew Harriman who stole the show with 12 tries, his rounding of opposite David Campese in the final providing the tournament's most vivid image.

"He was the man in that tournament, he shocked a lot of people," Rush says.

"England snuck up on everybody and Harriman was probably the biggest reason."

New Zealand were found lacking, losing to England and South Africa in the second round of matches.

"We were 15-a-side players they tried to turn into sevens players," Rush says.

Scotland may be the birthplace of sevens but Hong Kong is widely considered the spiritual home of the game.

Played to a backdrop that year of huge changes in Hong Kong -- transforming from British colony to Chinese sovereignty -- the tournament was a bright success, won in emotional style by Fiji.

New Zealand brought an impressive team but their march to the semifinals was well and truly halted by a South African team featuring Springboks stars like Joost van der Westhuizen, Bobby Skinstad and Andre Venter.

"We were going all right but we just got smashed by a very good team," Rush says.

"It was a great final. South Africa were good but Fiji had a young Waisale Serevi, a young Marika Vunibaka and a hell of a lot of pace.

"They deserved to win that one, we were all cheering for them in the final."

Each Fijian in the final had the biblical reference PHL 4:13 scrawled in ink across the chests of their jerseys.

"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength," was the message that carried them to a 24-21 win and ensured Fiji kept the promise of success Serevi made to his country before they left home.

Fiji have since faded as a sevens superpower but have rounded up a strong side for the fourth edition of the World Cup this week.

History is on their side -- they are back in Hong Kong and have called on the services of Serevi, 36, after a two-year absence.

England have also roped in a host of players not available for this year's International Rugby Board series, where they have been under-par. Plus they have won the last three Hong Kong sevens tournaments.

New Zealand have been easily the dominant team in the IRB series and, though young, will start favourites to defend their World Cup crown.

Coach Gordon Tietjens has been denied several of the Super 12 star players he was counting on.

However, Rush, now Tietjens' assistant coach, said the absence of players like Joe Rokocoko, Sosene Anesi and Rico Gear -- not willing to leave their Super 12 franchises and jeopardise their All Blacks prospects -- wouldn't impact on New Zealand's chances.

"There's been a bit of hoopla about players not being available and that sort of thing but these young guys have been training so well, it's looking pretty good, I reckon," he says.

They're guys who really want to be here and I think they're going to go well."

So has Rush packed his boots? Could he go one more round with long-time rival Serevi if a New Zealand player breaks a leg?

"No, I don't think so. We saw last time they can do okay without me," he says.


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