England's visit cheered city with little to cheer about
One of the warmest episodes of a warm week leading to the World Cup opener was the visit to Christchurch by a group of England players and their coach Martin Johnson. England had already been embraced by Kiwis on arrival in Dunedin for their first game tonight against Argentina. But at a stroke the English team's trip north to broken, stadium-free Christchurch endeared them to a country which has never held them dear.
Johnson, captain Lewis Moody and the player delegation showed empathy with Cantabrians' plight. The sight of the boys from Twickenham on the devastated Lancaster Park spoke louder of a "world in union" than a thousand choirs. They stated the obvious, that rugby is less important than life, death and the aftermath of disaster, but with obvious respect for a community still grieving.
England did not have to take the time, did not have to go in such numbers and seniority. Australia under Cantabrian Robbie Deans will also spend time in Christchurch and the All Blacks will train there.
The visits alone cannot replace the excitement the tournament was to have brought Christchurch. By many accounts the city is primed to gather and celebrate the televised rugby as a welcome diversion from the misery and uncertainty of a year of more than 1000 tremors. All communities hosting teams, matches and parties these next six weeks should spare a thought for cup-less Christchurch. England did. And it mattered.