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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Solemn ceremony followed by ground-breaking rugby

Solemn ceremony followed by ground-breaking rugby

Last updated 11:41 29/03/2011
From Westminster Abbey to Twickenham, Mark Maynard bravely embarked on a solemn and then triumphant crusade across London.

Maynard, who lost his wife in last month's Christchurch earthquake, and his brother, Peter, were conspicuous among the congregation inside Westminster Abbey for yesterday's memorial service for victims of the Christchurch earthquake.

They had Crusaders team-issue jackets draped over their seats facing the west gate of the historic church and after a personal audience with Prince Charles, they joined another pilgrimage with the city's expatriate Kiwi community, along the District Line.

The London Underground carried them to Twickenham, where they watched their rugby team win a ground-breaking Super 15 match against South Africa's Sharks - another experience inextricably linked to New Zealand's natural disaster on February 22.

The Maynards were among 47 Britain-based friends and family members of the estimated about 180 people who died in the 6.3-magnitude quake. They were invited to attend a poignant hour-long commemoration - a sombre event in which singer Hayley Westenra broke down towards the end of a personal tribute to her home city.

It was that tearful interlude that struck a chord with Maynard, who is grieving for his wife Kelly, 43, the doting mother of three-year-old Molly and two-year-old Matilda.

London-based Westenra, who described singing the national anthem at the Hagley Park memorial on March 18 as one of the most emotionally charged performances of her career, briefly lost her composure as she saluted "my fellow Cantabrians struggling at this difficult time".

That was a poignant moment for Maynard.

"When Hayley spoke, it was quite an emotional time," he said after viewing the wreath Prince Charles had laid on the forecourt outside the abbey.

He also appreciated the consoling words of Peter Crook, leader of the British search-and-rescue team, who lauded the bravery of workmates and passers-by who fought to free people from the rubble of the Pyne Gould Corporation building before his 63-man squad arrived.

"He was on the building where my wife was. It was good to see him and see what he said," Maynard said.

Only 2500 expats were granted access to the service via a ticket ballot. It was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall.

The service originally clashed with the Crusaders game, but was brought forward to noon so participants like the Maynards could make the cross-city journey in time for kickoff.

They were embraced by the Crusaders squad on arrival, and attended the captain's run at England rugby headquarters yesterday.

"We're staying with them, it's like we're one of them," Maynard said. "We were on the field [at Twickenham], in the changing rooms, we had photos taken in the bath . . . It's been great hanging out with the team."

And the team didn't let their special supporters down. Sonny Bill Williams talked - and walked - a good game.

"He asked if we were going to the game and said 'Bring the popcorn, I'm going to put on a show'," Maynard said with a smile.

Williams and his teammates achieved just that as they swamped the Sharks 44-28 in an eight-try spectacle that raised funds for the Red Cross earthquake relief fund.

"They just had to win," Maynard said, before the team embarked on a lap of honour before the 35,000-strong crowd.

Now there are days of uncertainty ahead for him after the flight home today.

"I've got two wee kids at home," he said.

"Life's changed."


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