Rush leads the push for Olympic status

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The Independent Online

In the full version, New Zealand are abbreviated to the All Blacks. In the abbreviated game, they are not. Thus it was that New Zealand, alias the magnificent seven, maintained their monopoly on the IRB World Series, not on yesterday's performance but throughout the season. It is the reverse of what happened here seven days ago, when Wasps beat Gloucester for the Zurich Premiership.

This global tournament was launched four years ago, and the New Zealanders, led by the remarkable 38-year-old Eric (The Adrenalin) Rush, have won every series. It was the same story this year, New Zealand opening the programme by winning in Dubai. They have led the points table ever since, and entered the last leg of the campaign, the London Sevens in front of a 25,000 crowd yesterday, in an unassailable position.

Last season they dominated by a record margin, winning seven of the 11 events, not to mention the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. This time, Rush and company were made to work harder for their crown.

Fiji beat them in the final in South Africa, and last week England denied them in Cardiff. The latter achievement was all the more remark-able since one of the key men, Ben Gollings, had been sent off for kicking. This sounds much worse than it was, and on appeal Gollings'ban was reduced, so that yesterday he was able to supplement the half-dozen Red Roses.

England, after a half-hearted approach a few years ago, have bought into the Sevens, which is sponsored by Emirates Airlines. Managed by the former rugby league great Joe Lydon, England won in Brisbane and Hong Kong this year.

There are several reasons why the International Rugby Board introduced the World Series, which sounds like something out of baseball but is a lot more international - the development of skills, the perception that countries overpowered in the 15-a-side game have a better chance of competing and, in an extension of that argument, that sevens would make a suitable sport for inclusion in the Olympic Games. A decision is expected in 2005, and the IRB are hoping to run with the ball in Beijing in 2008. Beijing should have hosted a sevens leg in April, but it was cancelled because of the Sars outbreak.

Despite the idea that the have-nots can compete on a more level playing field, the usual suspects emerged in yesterday's semi-finals when Fiji beat New Zealand 26-7 and England put out South Africa 26-5.

England, who finished runners-up in the series, played Henry Paul at stand-off in the final and it worked a treat. Paul, who had a wretched time on this ground with Gloucester last week and who today flies to join England's Churchill Cup squad in Vancouver, scored one of England's five tries in a 31-24 victory over Fiji. The crowd sang Swing Low, Sweet Charity - perhaps they should send the tape to New Plymouth.