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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Editorial: Rugby hopes dashed

Editorial: Rugby hopes dashed

Last updated 05:00 17/03/2011
OPINION: For earthquake-ravaged Cantabrians this will be just another kick in the guts.

Residents had been welcoming the prospect not only of important pool matches in the Rugby World Cup but also of two crucial quarter-finals, with the major economic spin-offs from these. Now those hopes have been dashed.

Cantabrians are smart folks. The entire region had experienced the fury of the earthquakes in September last year and then last month. And Cantabrians knew full well that their stadium had been badly damaged on February 22. Several stands were munted, to use Mayor Bob Parker's term, to one degree or another and the playing pitch had been compromised to an extent that there could be no assurance that the contractual World Cup obligations could be met.

Residents had been desperately optimistic that games here could somehow be salvaged, but this was always a forlorn optimism. Now local rugby followers must be consigned to the reality that our much-cherished two quarter-finals will be staged at Auckland's Eden Park and the city's other five pool matches elsewhere.

This has a sense of realism to it. Why else have the local rugby team, the Crusaders, planned to have a "home" match in London and other fixtures outside Christchurch?

The Government announcement will arouse mixed emotions in Canterbury. There should be some relief that at last there is some clarity and certainty over the future of the scheduled matches. Many businesses in the broader city will have been anticipating an influx of rugby fans.

Likewise, the alternative venues for the matches will have to take into account the new timeframe as they consider the transportation and accommodation planning that will be required. And in this respect it is interesting that if the quarter-finals can no longer be played in Christchurch then the merits of the brand-new stadium in Dunedin were not fully considered.

Another burning issue is how much domestic governmental and rugby authority advice was sought before the decision was made to shift the World Cup matches out of the city. Undoubtedly moving quarter-final matches to Auckland will suit the Dublin-based head honchos of the International Rugby Board as it will save on travel time for them. It will also boost the coffers of Auckland at our own expense.

But the IRB and our own Government should also have taken into account the impact on Christchurch before it made an obviously hasty decision.

For year after year and decade after decade Canterbury has been the greatest province not just in New Zealand rugby but globally as well. Its history of success in "super" rugby speaks for itself. So, too, does the seamless succession of players who have been blooded in the red and black, then went, like Richie McCaw and before him Todd Blackadder, on to run onto the field wearing the full black jersey.

Given this huge rugby heritage Canterbury had been keenly anticipating hosting World Cup matches. Yes, there were problems with AMI stadium. And yes, there were challenges with respect to accommodation and central city restaurants. But Christchurch folk have shown themselves to be resilient in the face of adversity. With bleak times around Christchurch those Rugby World Cup games would have been a welcome tonic.

- The Press

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