39 Eric Rush [1995-1997]

CAPS 9

NZ Rugby World - - Green Tea Party -

Eric Rush’s big­gest in­flu­ence as a player was in sevens. No one did more to put sevens on the world map than Rush, who be­came renowned as one of the great­est ex­po­nents of the ab­bre­vi­ated sport in his­tory.

It may well be sevens that he’s best known for, but Rush, who won nine test caps, had a sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence on All Blacks rugby that went be­yond his statistics.

He was the men­tor and main sup­port net­work for Jonah Lomu. It was Rush who first in­tro­duced Lomu to sevens and put him on the big stage.

Rush could see the freak­ish tal­ent in Lomu and he also con­nected with him on a deeply hu­man level. Rush knew about hard­ship, about hav­ing to fight for ev­ery­thing and he and Lomu con­nected. They were mates. There was trust and it was no sur­prise that it was Rush who helped the big man tran­si­tion to XVs and stay on track when he was in se­ri­ous dan­ger of fall­ing o it in 1994 and early 1995.

When Lomu turned up to an All Blacks train­ing camp in February 1995 hor­ri­bly out of con­di­tion, it was Rush who per­suaded coach Lau­rie Mains that he could re­trieve the sit­u­a­tion.

It was Rush who did the hard yards on the train­ing field with the gi­ant wing. It was Rush who ad­vised, en­cour­aged and guided Lomu to a bet­ter place and it is doubt­ful whether the lat­ter would have had the im­pact he did in 1995 if it hadn’t been for the in­flu­ence of the former.

Former New Zealand sevens player Karl Te Nana re­cently told an anec­dote that il­lus­trated how close Rush and Lomu were.

Lomu was play­ing in the 2001 World Cup Sevens in Ar­gentina when Rush su ered a dou­ble leg frac­ture and was forced home. Lomu, by all ac­counts, led an un­for­get­table, farewell haka for Rush, be­fore de­liv­er­ing an equally un­for­get­table per­for­mance in the fi­nal that saw New Zealand crowned cham­pi­ons.

Te Nana be­lieves it was the dis­ap­pear­ance of Lomu’s jer­sey which in­spired that match­win­ning per­for­mance against Aus­tralia. The New Zealand team shared a chang­ing room with Rus­sia. “Jonah liked to put his jer­sey on a hanger and see it there be­fore we went out to warm up,” said Te Nana.

“But when we came back in, the jer­sey had gone. One of Rus­sian fel­las must have seen Jonah’s jer­sey, pinched it and done a run­ner. The big fella had a bit of a hissy fit and started punch­ing the walls. I said, ‘Look, we’ve got an­other jer­sey, don’t worry,’ but it was the one he wanted to give to Rushie.”

The ul­ti­mate proof of their close­ness, how­ever, came in tragedy when Lomu died in late 2015. The fam­ily turned to Rush to lead the eu­lo­gies at the funeral and his old friend spoke with a com­pelling mix of hu­mour, com­pas­sion and re­spect.

It was a speech that touched hearts and pro­vided a fit­ting send-o to one of rugby’s great­est play­ers. But for Rush, the re­la­tion­ship wasn’t about rugby or star­dom, it was about friend­ship, fun and mu­tual re­spect.

“The way we talked was like lit­tle kids,” Rush re­called re­cently. “I re­mem­ber him as my big cud­dly mate. I don’t miss him as the rugby su­per­star. We haven’t been that for 20 years.

“We’d get to­gether and have laughs about the old days. That’s the times I miss about him. Any con­ver­sa­tion of great All Blacks he’ll be in there. He’ll never be for­got­ten, there’s no two ways about that.”

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