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LORRAINE: Welcome to TalkAsia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. This week one of the original 'men in black', Eric Rush, is appropriately named as the captain of the New Zealand Rugby Seven's team and a former All Black, he plays one of the fastest and most demanding games in professional sport. His position on the field is 'hooker', which means he's got to be extremely light on his feet and be able to take some pretty hard knocks. But it takes more than brawn to be captain and Rush is involved in a number of pursuits that make him a leader on and off the pitch. Eric Rush is sitting right next to me, and we'll spend the next half hour separating the 'man' from the 'scrum'. Mr. Rush, thank you very much for coming. Eric, I appreciate your time.

RUSH: My pleasure, too.

LORRAINE: You have been in Hong Kong many times, fifteen times?

RUSH: Yes, yes.

LORRAINE: What is it about this city? I mean...

RUSH: I like coming back because I've always had a good time here. And in the game of Seven's, the big tournament is the Hong Kong Sevens.

LORRAINE: Is it exciting all the time?

RUSH: Yes, yes. It's so hard to win, which is why I always like coming back. But it's also a great time whether you win or lose, because the crowd-it's such a party atmosphere. And, I just really, really enjoy it.

LORRAINE: We have an e-mail from Rick, here in Hong Kong, He wants to ask you, 'Who is your most respected opponent'?

RUSH: In the Sevens game, definitely it's Waisale Serevi from Fiji. He's been here almost as many years as I have. We've had some great battles over the years and he's such a difficult player to catch. You might get a hand on him but pulling him to the ground is a different story. He is only a small man but he's very powerful and very, very quick on his feet.

LORRAINE: When you play, let's say, with an opponent like the one you just mentioned. Is it kept on the field? Does it become personal outside?

RUSH: Ah no, there is a rugby saying that goes, "what happens on the field, stays on the field." So as soon as the last whistle's gone, you know, you have a chat and have a beer with the opposition, which is a pretty unique thing to rugby, I think. I know a lot of guys who play rugby, solely for the purpose of the socializing afterwards. And that's why a lot of people have come to the Tens and the Sevens up here over the years, because it's the atmosphere that surrounds the game that they are really attracted to.

LORRAINE: Eric, in Rugby Sevens I understand, there's fewer people on the field, now I'm not a rugby player obviously. It's a shorter game, that means you're likely to be sprinters, is that right? You have to run very fast?

RUSH: Yes, yes. You've got to cover a lot more ground. There're only seven guys on the same size football field. And you know, it only lasts for 14 minutes but you really know you've been doing some exercise when you play the Sevens game. It is quite demanding but you know it's good, too because half the time you get the ball, and there is a lot more space to move around.

LORRAINE: Now you are 37?

RUSH: Yes.

LORRAINE: Is it tough to maintain the same sort of training schedule and playing the game?

RUSH: Yes, yes, definitely... I think I have sort of been lucky, because I haven't had too many bad injures. Last year I had a bad one, but I came back from that pretty well. I think as long as you keep in shape, it doesn't really matter how old you are. You know, as long as you stay at that fitness and don't let it fall off. I think the only thing the age does is, if you do get an injury, it takes a little bit longer for it to go away.

LORRAINE: Which is only human, only natural.

RUSH: Yes, that's right.

LORRAINE: Did you ever think after you broke your hurt your leg, right?

RUSH: Yes, yes.

LORRAINE: Did you ever think may be you couldn't play again?

RUSH: Only about two or three times a day! But it was quite a bad break. It was a funny one where the top bone got pushed through the bottom, it wasn't a snap. They actually told me that I probably wouldn't make it back, but I'm happy to say that I proved them wrong and the doctor brought me a beer when he saw me the next time. So it was good!

LORRAINE: How long is the life of a top rugby player normally?

RUSH: Normally, I'd say you'd be lucky to get ten/twelve years in.

LORRAINE: You've got fifteen thus far.

RUSH: Yes, so I have been lucky, and Sevens is not as demanding in the full on confrontational, physical style game of rugby, where there's a lot more bodies on the paddock, and you can only go so far before you hit one of them. Sevens is a lot more about using the space and so I think I've been lucky to miss a lot of the hard stuff.

LORRAINE: So how do you stay fit?

RUSH: Run, you've just got to. Unfortunately rugby is a game where you run around the paddock, and the only way to get good at that is to get out and run. But I'm lucky, I actually enjoy running. I know a lot of people told me if you are going to be successful at this sport you have to make a lot sacrifices. But to me training is always fun, so it was never a sacrifice.

LORRAINE: So it wasn't the beer or the meat pies...

RUSH: I don't drink, so the beer hasn't been anything that I really look forward to. Sometimes I wish I did drink, looking at some of the good times I've seen the guys have, but I can have a good time without alcohol.

LORRAINE: Okay. Eric, we'll take a short break. TalkAsia will be right back.


LORRAINE: This is Talk Asia. We are talking with Eric Rush, he is the captain of the New Zealand Rugby Sevens team. Eric tell me, in New Zealand, rugby is a religion, correct? So you must be really high up there in the rankings.

RUSH: I wouldn't call it religion, but yes, it's our national game. Every kid, or most kids in New Zealand aspire to be an All Black one day. I am one of the lucky ones that happened to make it.

LORRAINE: Is it hard not to let the fame go to your head?

RUSH: Not in New Zealand. In New Zealand we have a thing call the 'tall poppy syndrome', which, you know, we love getting our people to the top, but as soon as they are there, we like nothing better than chopping them off at the knees. Yeah, you never get a too big head when you are living in New Zealand.

LORRAINE: Sort of a dose of reality?

RUSH: Yes, they don't like people thinking they are better then they really are.

LORRAINE: Is there a lot of pressure on you at all when people say Hey, that's Eric Rush?

RUSH: No, I don't mind that. You know... I used to do the same when I was a kid. I used to run out to get the autographs as well. I don't see that as a pressure. There's a pressure to win, obviously, being in the New Zealand Rugby team, but I like that pressure as well. It's part of New Zealand, we have a Maori word for it, 'Mana', which is sort of respect and power, that you get from playing in the team and you've got to pay for that somewhere, and the pressure is where you pay for it.

LORRAINE: Now, before, or is it after the game, you have this special ritual the team performs, it's a Maori ritual, is it?

RUSH: Yes, it's called the Haka. In the olden days in New Zealand, it was a dance that they, not so much a dance, it was an action, warriors performed before they went into battle.

LORRAINE: What for? Good Luck?

RUSH: No, just to 'gee' themselves up. Because once you finish doing the Haka, you're ready for anything. That's what the Haka is. It was designed to intimidate the opposition as well. But today I don't think it works because the other team knows, you won't come out with spears and knives and stuff. So today it's more of a sign of respect for the other team.

LORRAINE: All right, and you are a part Maori, right?

RUSH: Yes, my mom is a full Maori.

LORRAINE: Eric, what do you think is your most memorable game to date?

RUSH: My most memorable game is definitely my first game for the All Blacks. Like I say, it was a boyhood dream, and to finally run out there and being given an All Black jersey in the changing room, just sort of growing up over the years, going to the games, watching them on TV and finally getting your own jersey, running out on the field

It was an eighty minute game but it passed like that. You feel like you're ten feet tall and bulletproof. I wish I could have stayed out there and played for another eighty minutes because it was such a dream came true.

LORRAINE: Eric, you started from the bottom I realize. There are a lot of younger people now who come in to the sport, may be not even rugby, may be even other sports, they're given these great packages, they are treated like superstars when they've just come in. Are they missing something? Are they losing?

RUSH: There's definitely players around like that in rugby nowadays, we call them paycheck players, the guys who are really interested in the money at the end of the day no matter what they talk about and, our guys (the Sevens team), we're called Professionals, but we don't really get paid...they get NZ$1000 a tournament, and we play ten tournaments, you can't live on NZ$10,000 so they all have jobs when we're at home. And I like it that way, because they're here for the right reasons, they're not here for money or stardom, because there's not much of that either in the Sevens, they're here because they want to play winning rugby in a black jersey and to me, that's what it's got to be.

LORRAINE: Eric, what about sponsorship, does that sort of eat in to the game and the real essence of rugby?

ERIC: I think you have to have it nowadays, I think it's something that has developed, if it wasn't for sponsors, a lot of the tournaments and games in rugby just wouldn't happen.

LORRAINE: Eric, you started Rugby when you were pretty young right, you started playing when you were, what, five?

ERIC: Yes, five

LORRAINE: So you were always in to the sport?

ERIC: Yes, like I say, you grow up with it in New Zealand, before you can run, you're given a ball, and I've done the same with my kids, here's a rugby ball mate, turn off the TV, go outside and kick it around.

LORRAINE: Is that what you want them to do?

ERIC: Yes, it doesn't have to be Rugby, as long as it's some sort of's hard for kids nowadays, because they've got so many choices, there's the internet, there's play station, there's all this sort of stuff

LORRAINE: Indoor technology?

ERIC: Yeah, I refuse to buy play station for my kids, we've got great outdoors in New Zealand so I believe they should get out there and enjoy it, I kick them out of the house as often as I can.

LORRAINE: What does your wife think about it?

ERIC: She enjoys it too, I think kids enjoy it know I was bought up in the bush, where if you wanted a feed, you went outdoors and caught yourself some food, and I think it's a great way to be brought up, and I'm trying to do the same with my kids.

LORRAINE: Does your family travel with you at all? I presume you've got a fairly tight schedule.

ERIC: We've got ten tournaments around the world, and unfortunately they can't come all the wife's been to Hong Kong a few times and watched the tournament.

LORRAINE: Is it hard on family life to travel so much?

ERIC: Yeah, we're away from home 150 days this year and anywhere outside of New Zealand is a big trip, the closest country is Aussie which is about three and a half hours away, further than that is a ten hour flight so when you leave New Zealand, it's always a big trip, it's not like you can go there and back in a day, it takes some tournaments two/three days to get home, so yeah, it's quite hard on my wife, but I think she handles it quite well and, I think she enjoys it when I'm away more actually, because she's got one less kid to look after!

LORRAINE: I should ask her maybe she might agree!

What do you do in your spare time...when you have spare time?

ERIC: I always go and watch my boys play rugby on a Saturday, and whenever I can I go home I live in Auckland but my home town is in the North of New Zealand, we live right on the coast, so whenever I'm home, I'm out on the boat, fishing, or somewhere, diving, just get out of the place and get away from all the people.

LORRAINE: Eric, we're going to take another short break, we'll be right back with TalkAsia and Eric Rush.


LORRAINE: This is TalkAsia, Eric Rush is my guest, he's tough, he's fit and he's still the captain of the New Zealand Rugby Sevens team at the age of 37. Eric, this is the question of the week, it comes from Eric in Hong Kong, he asks 'Top rugby players still don't earn as much as NBA or golf stars. Why is this, and do you think this will change'?

ERIC: I guess there are a lot more people who watch NBA and golf, and at the end of the day, any professional sport is governed by the TV, that's just how it is, you know five years ago we didn't get a brass cent for playing rugby, after the game, you'd get a shake of the hand and a pat on the back, and that's all you really wanted, but I guess times have changed, it's quite good now that the guys are getting paid.

LORRAINE: You were a lawyer, a practicing solicitor, is that correct? Or barrister?

ERIC: Solicitor

LORRAINE: You were a solicitor. But you chose professional rugby instead of continuing a law career...why was this?

ERIC: Oh its a lot more fun! Sitting in the office for ten hours a day dealing with other peoples problems, as opposed to getting out and running around with a football and traveling the world, I don't know too many people who would have chose the other one. But the Law degree is something that I can always go back and use.

LORRAINE: But you're not practicing now?

ERIC: No, no, we're away too much to hold down a job I don't know anyone who would hire a person who's away half of the year.

LORRAINE: But before you did have to have two jobs right, I presume the law job...

ERIC: Yeah Rugby wasn't a job, it was a hobby you trained before work, and you trained after work, I still see rugby as not being a job even though we do get paid now a little. But I want to play the game for the reasons I've always played it and that's to have a good time, and get around and make a whole lot of mates.

LORRAINE: It seems your life has been pretty much smooth sailing, has it really been? I mean, have there been any personal hard knocks or lessons that stay with you in your life that maybe you've learned from?

ERIC: Oh yes, there's been plenty of doubts, and some quite severe ones as well

LORRAINE: Care to share that with us?

ERIC: Yeah, I was involved in a car accident a few years back where the other person died, and it was my fault, and that was pretty tough. I almost stopped playing rugby then, because being in the public spotlight, it was on the front pages of the newspapers every single day, and that was really tough...but as much as it was tough for me, the papers didn't really care too much about the family of the person who died and to me that was even harder. Then it sort of turned right around and all they talked about was the family, and me still playing, and carrying on. And even now, every time I start enjoying myself, I always think I shouldn't be having a good time someone is dead because of me. It was the darkest time of my life, but I've got through it, and as someone said to me, if you don't buck your ideas up, you might as well have died in the car crash too.

LORRAINE: How do you turn adversity in to something else, to hopefully help you or help other people?

ERIC: Someone said to me once, a lot of people fall in holes, sometimes you fall in a hole by accident, sometimes you are pushed in and sometimes you dig the hole yourself, but when you're in the hole, the only important thing is what you do to get out of it...I was lucky, I had a lot of great mates, and family support and they helped me to get out of the hole it's not how you get down there that is important, it's what you do when you're there, and I've been lucky to come back and carry on, but you know it's always there, it's always with me, it'll never go, it's never over for me, or the other family.

LORRAINE: Do you translate any of that in to rugby and the strategy of playing?

ERIC: Yeah, I always think now that rugby is a game, because there are much much more important things in the world, and that lesson was brought home to me quite harshly. But it's something I've learnt from...I think every single game I play, there's a moment in the game when I think if I don't pick myself up here, this guys going to get on top of me, and rugby is a physical game, a lot of it is intimidation and it's great for your personal strength to be able to overcome those little battles every single time you're out there.

LORRAINE: I also understand, and I can tell from chatting with you, that you're quite a professional when it comes to chatting, I mean this isn't after dinner conversation, but do that on the side don't you?

ERIC: Yeah, in New Zealand, it's not hard to talk about rugby, everybody is interested and it doesn't matter what you say, they're all going to like it, so yeah it's a little sideline I have.

LORRAINE: Is that pretty lucrative...or is it just a fun thing?

ERIC: Well it started off as a fun thing, because we have to go to a lot of schools and a lot of rugby clubs and you do those sort of things for nothing, but the corporate people said, well how much do you want, and at first, it was embarrassing...

LORRAINE: Yes, how much do you charge for your time, right?

ERIC: Yeah exactly...what do you want to pay me for sort of thing? We'd go to rugby clubs, get a side of lamb, or a sack of potatoes, and that was enough...but yeah, there's good money on the public speaking circuit and especially in places like Hong Kong, Australians are big on it, and the UK is, as well.

LORRAINE: You address school children I presume too, you must be like a demi god to them. What do you tell them, in a nut little kids?

ERIC: It depends on the age, there's no use talking about short-term and long-term goals if they're five years old all I talk about is Disneyland and how cool it is there and those sort of kids love to hear that sort of thing, the older they get, you sort of try and put a bit of a message in the talk...

LORRAINE: What kind of message?

ERIC: I always talk about sticking through the tough times, because although I wanted to be an All Black since I was five, I actually never made it in to any representative team until I was 21 years old, my brothers and my mates they all made it in to the representative teams right through the ages, I took a long time to develop in to a rugby player, my dad was good he always told me when I missed out on a team that it was only one mans opinion, the next coach might like you...unfortunately in those early days all the coaches had the same opinion that I was useless! It was a real big learning curve and it toughened my character a bit, and when I did make the All Blacks, I rang my dad, and he said the exact same thing to me, he said, 'Good on you, Congratulations, but remember, it's only one mans opinion, and the next coach might not like you!' So the lesson has sort of come back to haunt me a little bit.

LORRAINE: Any plans to call it quits some time soon and retire?

ERIC: Yeah, definitely, my body's telling me that, when you take 15-20 minutes to get moving in the morning you know the end is coming I'd love to be doing it forever, but like I say, it's a physical game...

LORRAINE: What would you do Eric?

ERIC: I've got my law degree, I don't know if I'll use it to be a lawyer, but I think a degree is not about doing that specific subject, a degree just tells prospective employers that you've got a few clues and if you are set a task, you can sit down and finish it. Hopefully I'll use it...the rugby does open doors as well, you never know I might get a job in Hong Kong coaching kids or something.

LORRAINE: Maybe! Eric, we had a great time talking to you. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

I've been speaking with Eric Rush the captain of the New Zealand Sevens team.




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