Editorial: How to fill hole in rugby heartland

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AMI Stadium in Christchurch. Photo / Sarah Ivey
AMI Stadium in Christchurch. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Only a Cantabrian could have scotched a suggestion out of left field this week that the silver fern on the All Blacks' chests could turn red for the Rugby World Cup. Since the Cantabrian was the All Black captain his response puts the idea beyond debate. "I don't think it's a goer," said Richie McCaw, "Canterbury people don't expect things like that."

Rugby fans in the whole country, Canterbury included, breathed with relief. Iconic symbols need not be sacrificed in a gesture of sympathy but who would say so? Not the Prime Minister who said it would be "a nice touch". Not the Opposition Leader who thought it, "a really nice idea". Not even the All Blacks' manager, Darren Shand, who said the team had several great ideas from the public about how to acknowledge Christchurch and all would be considered.

Yesterday, Mr Shand was able to announce a far better consolation for the shaken city. The All Blacks will stay there and train there for five days between their pool matches. That is not a symbolic gesture to the city, it allows it to participate in the event.

Christchurch may be in no condition to host matches and crowds of Cup followers but it has sufficient accommodation and training facilities that survived the February earthquake for it to host a team. The continuing aftershocks that would upset too many tourists should not unduly disturb the All Blacks. Many of them live there.

With McCaw, Dan Carter, Keiran Read, Brad Thorn, Sonny Bill Williams and several others in the likely squad, Christchurch is already home to the core of the team. Now it has the chance to make itself the team's sentimental base in September.

The five days they plan to spend there are days they were to have spent in Auckland, between their matches against Japan at Hamilton and France at Eden Park. That will not be a light week for the All Blacks. France promises to present their toughest challenge in the pool phase and they will be particularly determined to avenge their quarter final defeat in the previous World Cup.

So Christchurch cannot count on too much of the players' time that week but the city's serious rugby fans are bound to attend open training sessions and the whole place will be with them in spirit when they leave for Auckland.

Such is the enduring sympathy for Christchurch that the rest of the country will share the sentimental charge of their gesture to the city. It is one of the four metropolitan centres that historically have been the foundations of New Zealand. Without it, the country feels like a horse on three legs. To stage a World Cup without Christchurch leaves a hole in the rugby heartland.

It would be good for the whole country for the All Blacks to base themselves in Christchurch as much as they could. They are scheduled to spend the first week of September in Auckland, until the Cup opener match against Tonga, then to Hamilton for a full week, and finally a week in Wellington to play Canada. They could spend most of each week in Christchurch.

But five days gives the city a role and the gesture gives the All Blacks campaign extra meaning for the whole country.

Red and black can be all black now.

- NZ Herald

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