Rugby: Rush keen to recreate Auckland's old X-factor

By Campbell Burnes

Gareth Anscombe is part of the starting line-up for Auckland's game against Canterbury today. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Gareth Anscombe is part of the starting line-up for Auckland's game against Canterbury today. Photo / Sarah Ivey

One of Auckland's favourite rugby sons is relishing the opportunity to work with a talented bunch of loose forwards as the province seeks its first championship since 2007.

Former All Black No 8 Xavier Rush, now 37, is the new assistant coach for the ITM Cup side, working alongside Paul Feeney and Nick White, and will be hoping for a bright start to Auckland's campaign today against old rivals and six-time defending champions Canterbury.

"I'm a very passionate Jafa, if I can say that, and very passionate about Auckland rugby.

"I'm happy to be involved with this team again," said Rush, a three-time NPC winner, who was defence coach for the Cardiff Blues until May 2013, since which he has been working on property projects before his return to New Zealand a few months ago.

"There's good experience there with Peter Saili and Sean Polwart. Joe Edwards has had a chance to put on some good weight during the season, and he's a bigger player than last year," said Rush, of the loose trio that will run out today.

The promising Blake Gibson will come off the pine, while waiting in the wings are Nepia Fox-Matamua, great-grandson of the great George Nepia, and young Waitemata No8 Ari Hunt, returning from a medium-term knee injury. Dependent on ongoing All Blacks requirements, Auckland may see something of Steven Luatua in the All Blacks' 23 tonight.

Rush will oversee the Auckland forwards and the defensive systems.

"Obviously there's a fair bit of work to do on both attacking and defensive breakdowns in terms of our philosophies.

"No one person knows everything about them, so we just share ideas for what is best for the team."

He says they want to make a strong impression against Canterbury.

"It'll be evenly matched. It's a good challenge for us first up and we'll definitely know where we stand after that 80 minutes.

"We want to make that top four ... and we think we've got a team that's good enough to get there."

It may have been more appropriate if the venue was Eden Park, as it was on August 15, 1914, when Auckland played its first rep game there, against Canterbury no less, winning 11-3.

Auckland's skipper is hooker Tom McCartney, while All Black Charles Piutau lines up on the left wing. Gareth Anscombe runs the cutter at No 10, with Simon Hickey named on the bench.

Features of the Canterbury side include Matt Todd at blindside flanker, Tom Taylor at 12, and New Zealand U-20 pivot Richie Mo'unga at fullback.

- NZ Herald

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