By PETER JESSUP
Sevens legend Eric Rush, who turns 36 in a fortnight, has vowed to return from the career-threatening leg break he suffered at the World Cup in Argentina and wants to go to Manchester in 2002 to defend the side's Commonwealth Games gold.
Rush will be in plaster and in the stands while his World Cup-winning team mates play the third round of the World Series in Wellington next month, but vowed after his return to Auckland yesterday to resurrect his career.
Rush wants to repeat the Games gold the side won in Kuala Lumpur.
"I'm more determined than ever not to quit now," he said after returning early from the Mar del Plata World Cup with a fractured tibia and as yet undetermined damage to the knee ligament in his right leg suffered during New Zealand's pool match against England.
"I don't want to go out on a bad note with an injury.
"Titch [coach Gordon Tietjens] made me promise I would be at level 14 in the beep tests in four months time and I think I'll take up the challenge."
That won't be easy. Yesterday, Rush went for further x-rays on the break, then to Tietjen's cousin, the orthopaedic surgeon Barry, to check for ligament and other knee damage.
The break will have to be allowed to repair before any knee surgery that might be required.
"If it's just the break it could be three months - if there's other damage it might be a lot longer," Rush said.
"Getting back to fitness will be the hard part, especially at my age."
Rush was sent home early because of medical advice that he needed to have the leg attended to in New Zealand as quickly as possible.
Australian team doctor John Best, returning to Sydney early because of business commitments, offered to accompany Rush on the plane and the pair enjoyed gentle ribbing for the first half of the flight, until the plane got over Antarctica and the pilot was able to call New Zealand to get the 31-12 scoreline by which Rush's team-mates beat the Aussies.
Rush was in considerable pain after being wheeled off the plane yesterday morning, but said it was easily bearable given the result in Mar del Plata.
"If that's what it takes to win, it's not that bad," he said.
He had told the team he did not want any "doing it for Rushie" talk before the final, that they needed to stick to the team ethic that had got them that far. He praised Jonah Lomu's three-try effort, but said it was a team triumph.
Lomu has permission to stay with the squad for the Wellington tournament, but he, Jared Going and replacement captain Karl Te Nana are the only World Cup winners available, the rest of the squad returning to Super 12 franchises.
Rush, with the sevens side since 1986, said he had come back from being badly injured before and was well prepared for the work that was needed to make it to the top level again.
"Titch will let me know if I'm up to it or not. But Manchester is the goal - I really want to make it to defend the title."