The decision that Christchurch should not host Rugby World Cup games will leave many in the already quake-devastated city "gutted", Mayor Bob Parker said today.
Christchurch had been set to host two quarterfinals and five group-stage games but, after a meeting with International Rugby Board (IRB) officials today, Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully announced the city would no longer have that role.
Its two quarterfinals will now be played in Auckland on October 8 and 9, while pool games allocated to Christchurch will go to other venues yet to be confirmed.
"We're facing a long, hard winter here in this city of ours," said Mr Parker.
"We were looking forward to a spring that would be brightened by having the Rugby World Cup here in our city."
Mr Parker said while he understood the decision, as a Cantabrian he would always find it hard to take.
"From my heart I will always find this decision hard to accept - perhaps even agree with at some level - but in my head what is important for us all to recognise is that this is an event that is bigger than Christchurch, it is about our country," he said.
"As much as many of us are completely gutted by this we understand... the decision."
Not holding the games was a major blow to the city's businesses, which were looking forward to the influx of rugby supporters into the city.
"I do worry about our businesses, I do worry about those people who saw this event and the opportunities that it would bring as some extra warmth at the end of that long hard winter," he said.
It was not only the people of Christchurch who would miss out but also the people who had booked to come to the city.
"They are going to miss out on probably the most rugby-centric place in New Zealand."
Former All Black Dennis Young, a member of the Canterbury Rugby Supporters' Club since it formed in 1969, said while the announcement was not a surprise, it was still a "dreadful blow" for the city
"The reports I have been hearing have not been very good, with the accommodation and the fear of more earthquakes," Mr Young said.
"When you put it all together I'm not too surprised."
While the decision was a blow to the city, Mr Young did not think it would affect the game of rugby in the city, and Canterbury would remain one of the strongest rugby provinces.
The announcement came after speculation over whether AMI Stadium could be repaired in time for the Rugby World Cup after the playing surface was affected by serious liquefaction and there was structural damage to the stands. International media had already reported the IRB had ruled out the city as a venue.
There were also worries that in the event the stadium could be fixed there would not be enough accommodation in the city with many of its largest hotels, including the Hotel Grand Chancellor, badly hit by the quake.
Some of those hit by the quake were also worried work on the stadium could delay reconstruction elsewhere.
Deans respects call
Australian rugby coach Robbie Deans, one of Canterbury's favourite sons despite his current allegiance to the Wallabies, today reacted philosophically to earthquake-devastated Christchurch losing its Rugby World Cup hosting rights.
Deans, whose historic family homestead was wrecked by the Canterbury region's first big quake last September, visited Christchurch earlier this week and was not surprised by the International Rugby Board's decision to move the seven matches scheduled for the damaged AMI Stadium elsewhere.
"While today's news is disappointing for Christchurch, having been in the city earlier in the week and able to assess the damage for myself, the decision is understandable," the Wallabies head coach said, after surveying the aftermath of the 6.3-magnitude quake which struck the city on February 22.
"As important as the hosting of the Rugby World Cup is to the people of New Zealand, the people of Christchurch have more important issues to deal with as they endeavour to rebuild their city and their lives after the recent tragedy.
"That will take time and a massive effort. For all of the genuine intent of New Zealanders to try and make the tournament work in Christchurch, and the good will of the rugby world to want to see that happen, unfortunately it wasn't a realistic goal. The time frames involved were evidently too tight, the task ahead of rebuilding the city and its facilities too great."
The Wallabies were to play pool games against Italy on September 11 and Russia on October 1 at the ground which has a stand named in honour of the Deans family.
"Obviously we would have loved to have played in Christchurch," Deans said.
"It's a very hospitable place, the people of Canterbury are very passionate about their rugby, and would have been great hosts.
"It's not to be, but I know Cantabrians will still get behind the Rugby World Cup, share in the spirit of the tournament and support it where they can."
The Australian Rugby Union was awaiting further information from the IRB on where those pools games will be played and where the Wallabies will now be based for training.
The Wallabies and England originally planned to set up camp in Christchurch for significant periods of the group stages.
- NZPA, NZ Herald staff