Eric Rush offers inspiration to class of 2013

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2013
DJ Forbes
Getty Images
TITLE SHOT: DJ Forbes will captain an experienced All Blacks Sevens team at the World Cup in Moscow.

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Eric Rush was the inspiration behind New Zealand's last sevens World Cup triumph, 12 long years ago.

On Friday he provided a timely message as the men's and women's teams were unveiled for this month's prestigious tournament in Moscow, Russia.

In 2001, Rush was the captain when New Zealand won their first and only sevens World Cup. But it wasn't his playing or leadership ability that carried the Jonah Lomu-inspired side to victory.

Rush broke his leg on day one of the tournament in Argentina. After a stirring haka from the team, he departed home in a wheelchair.

"It was sad to see Rushy go," long-serving coach Sir Gordon Tietjens recalled. "There was no need for a team talk going through the knockout stages after we lost our captain. To us that was the winning of the tournament.

"The feeling of winning it was tremendous."

For a team that has won 11 World Series titles, New Zealand's drought between World Cup successes is a major source of frustration.

Naturally the pressures of a one-off tournament every four years presents unique challenges, but that hasn't stopped Tietjens' men claiming four consecutive Commonwealth Games gold medals.

Rush was typically comical yesterday as he told antidotes of former All Blacks second five-eighth John Schuster filling up his suitcase with hotel products, but his fleeting moment of seriousness carried a compelling memo.

"There is a time to front," Rush said. "That time is now."

That poignant message won't be lost on captain DJ Forbes, Tomasi Cama and Lote Raikabula - the three survivors from the last failed tilt at the title in 2009.

Fiji is the only team to win two World Cups. To emulate their feats Tietjens will need to extract everything he can from an experienced team lacking star power.

Blues wing Waisake Naholo is the only Super Rugby player - other than Crusaders wider squad member Kurt Baker - in the 12-man squad.

After a three-day training camp, Tietjens chose to omit Chiefs No 8 Fritz Lee and wing Patrick Osborne as their fitness levels weren't up to scratch.

After being sidelined for six weeks with foot and knee injuries Forbes needs to get through one final training camp to prove his fitness.

Waikato's Tim Mikkelson proved an able replacement in his absence but Forbes' experience will be crucial given the fickle nature of World Cups.

Outside his core veterans Tietjens will be looking to speedsters Gillies Kaka, David Raikuna, Bryce Heem and flanker Sam Dickson for spark. Scott Curry and Sherwin Stowers are also reliable figures.

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Deep down, though, you couldn't blame the sevens guru for being slightly nostalgic about 2001. Back then he could call on the likes of Lomu, Mils Muliaina and Karl Te Nana.

Still, you won't ever hear him complain about access to players.

His expectations on these men are the same as what he demanded from those that have gone before.

No-one more than Tietjens wants to see this team accept Rush's plea.

"We'll treat every game as a final. We don't have a Jonah in this side but we've certainly got a very fit side," he said.

"If we play to our potential we can certainly go and win this World Cup."

Men's team: Kurt Baker, Tomasi Cama, Scott Curry, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes, Bryce Heem, Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson, Waisake Naholo, Lote Raikabula, David Raikuna, Sherwin Stowers. 
 
Women's team: Kelly Brazier, Sarah Goss, Vaine Greig, Honey Hireme, Linda Itunu, Huriana Manuel, Kayla McAlister, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Alexis Tapsell, Selica Winiata, Renee Wickliffe, Portia Woodman.

Fact Box: 

Tournament: Runs from June 28-30

Final: Sunday, June 30

Quarter-finals: 9pm NZT

Semifinals: 12.40am

Final: 4.20am

Pool: Georgia, Canada, USA

- © Fairfax NZ News

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