Rugby

Tamar Saracens centre Hodge cannot wait to play against New Zealand this weekend

TAMAR Saracens centre Steve Hodge is relishing the prospect of playing against New Zealand on Saturday.

Hodge has been named in the England Deaf squad to face their All Blacks counterparts at Blackheath in the first of a three-Test series.

He is joined in the 23-match party by his former Plymouth Albion team-mate Wayne Reed.

“For any rugby player at any international level the All Blacks are the team to face,” said Hodge. “It does not really get much bigger in the rugby world than playing against New Zealand.”

Hodge admits the England team do not know much about the New Zealand team, but they are expecting a tough challenge.

“We have seen some video footage on certain players, which has come through the World Deaf channels, but we don’t really know much about them,” said Hodge.

“They probably don’t know much about us also.

“In deaf rugby it is quite hard to find information on other teams.”

The three Tests between England and New Zealand deaf teams come thick and fast. The second game will be on Wednesday at Harlow with the final match at Barking the following Saturday.

Hodge is hoping he can play a part in all three fixtures.

“Being picked for the first Test should put everyone who has been selectd in good stead for the other two fixtures,” said Hodge. “But because they are so close together there could be injuries and things like that.”

After playing against New Zealand, Hodge will then head to the Dubai International Veterans’ 10s.

“Once I have finished the three Tests against New Zealand I have managed to get selected to go out and play in the Dubai 10s,” he said. “That’s at the end of November and I have a few things overseas after Christmas as well.”

If that was not enough, Hodge also has the World Deaf Sevens to look forward to in April. He has already been named in the England Deaf squad for that event in Australia.

“That’s all official now,” he said. “We are all just trying to put sponsorship in place now.

“I think there are 14 teams going to be at the World Deaf Sevens – ourselves, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand – all the main countries you would expect.”

The England players have to fund the trip themselves, so Hodge is trying to find sponsorship to be able to compete in Australia.

Honours are coming late in his career for Hodge, who will celebrate his 39th birthday on Thursday.

He was a promising youngster and played for the South West at age group level. He went on to progress into Albion’s first team, but then stopped playing rugby in 2001 at the age of just 22.

Hodge only returned to the sport a couple of seasons ago after more than 13 years out.

He had not heard about international deaf rugby until he spoke to Reed and did not realise he would qualify.

However, players do not need to be profoundly deaf. Anyone who has an average hearing loss of 25dB bilateral, which translates to mild level of deafness in both ears or moderate level in one ear, is eligible.

If anyone can help him with sponsorship to compete at the World Deaf Sevens, they should email steve.hodge@hotmail.co.uk.

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