Paul Lewis: C'mon the Crusaders

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Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

Now there's a thing. Found myself hoping the Crusaders win Super Rugby this year.

Sport pales into insignificance when faced with the unthinking cruelty of nature and the prolonged terror and sorrow being endured by the folk of Christchurch right now.

But it might have a role to play in helping to mend Canterbury's battered soul as we move from the horrors of the present to the rebuilding of the future.

The decision not to play against the Hurricanes last night was as understandable as it was correct. In some ways, it might have been good to have gone ahead and donated all the receipts (and a collection from the fans) to the earthquake fund. The bitter irony was the city that always threatened to host an earthquake disaster was to play host to the representatives of the city actually levelled by one. Actually, two.

In some ways, it might have been good to have started the healing process straight away - for players and people to say that they would not bow even to this; the reminder from whatever force created this world that we are guests and not owners.

The reality was overwhelming; too stark, of course. Sport can be a welcome diversion and a healing force in such circumstances but the 2011 earthquake and aftermath was not to be diverted.

Amid the rubble, the deaths, the missing, the confusion and the shock, the people of Christchurch and Canterbury will find a way back - but it will be a long, slow climb.

My own sister escaped serious injury, although she was flung from the chair she was standing on with a bucket of water at the time (don't ask...) My beautiful, big-hearted, selfless Lisa who always helps people; sometimes to her own detriment; who loves her brother without reservation, no matter what he gets up to.

In the moments, hours, days of confusion after the earthquake, when efforts to trace people were thwarted by the scale of the disaster, the worst is easy to contemplate. The lucky among us are lifted by the discovery of loved ones who escaped the ultimate penalty.

My sister tells me of her friend lost in the CTV building, presumed dead. The friend's husband was in a Koru Club lounge, watching aghast on TV as the building appeared in its crumpled tragedy. He pleads and protests, insisting on getting on a plane to Christchurch.

Those spared have to cope with what Christchurch is flinging at them now. My sister tells me she and her family are without power, gas, water and sewerage. Somehow the tale of her ornaments upsets me more.

Like many in Christchurch, she had left all her ornaments, things on shelves and paintings on the floor after the September quake. Finally, just a week or so before the 2011 quake, she'd put them all back up again, thinking it was time. They are all or mostly smashed now; returned to the heights just to be thrown down and broken - like Christchurch itself.

The cats have run away; the house is damaged but not unlivable; there are queues for food. While the rest of the nation watches progress through the news media, those without power and with days too full of trying to cope are the least informed; they don't know what's going on. Kids are sleeping on the floor of their parents' bedrooms; too scared to be in their own beds.

The only certainty is aftershocks. One every few minutes. A loathsome, visceral force from the bowels of the earth that makes even the most level-headed think: Is this the one?

My sister says they are much bigger than the September aftershocks, each over 4-point-something; each one its own prison sentence. I once woke to an earthquake in Taipei, in Taiwan. Just one big shake. At 3am, I dressed, packed, left the hotel, flagged down a cab and rocketed past Taipei's shaky building to the airport. I flew home; the business meeting I was there for abandoned.

But Christchurch people are home; nowhere to go.

They must wonder, amid the bumps and the rumbles of the unwanted subterranean visitor, whether it will take more lives and livelihoods.

It will settle down. When it does, the people of Christchurch will do what they have always done - band together and fight. Christchurch and Canterbury have always had pioneering zeal.

Most of us from the north are aware of Cantabrians' lack of regard for Auckland and Aucklanders. It is a regional thing but heartfelt nonetheless; a disdain for the brash, big brother of the north with too much money; too many people; and not enough sense.

We of the north rationalise this by telling ourselves that there are some strange critters down south. Miles Davis of Radio Sport used to call Christchurch "The Village Of The Damned" - a wind-up reference to the old movie which was essentially a film treatment of the John Wyndham book, The Midwich Cuckoos. Bet Miles isn't calling Christchurch that now.

Yet that's where sport comes in. Christchurch and Canterbury have given us so many special sports people and teams; they have been a huge part of this nation's backbone. From Sir Richard Hadlee to Ivan Mauger to Richie McCaw to Fergie McCormick ... the list is endless.

Sport can only be a diversion. But as the long journey back to 'normal' begins, it can help return some of that spirit to a spirited part of the country; a spirited people.

I can remember watching a Blues-Crusaders game with my brother at a family gathering some years back. He and I were the only Auckland supporters in the room. The rest were rabid Crusaders fans. They cheered everything that went well for the Crusaders. If the Blues did something well, they booed and turned baleful eyes on us. And we were family.

Christchurch and Canterbury might be crushed at the moment but they need to recapture that pioneer spirit; that unbreakable sense of identity. Sport can help them do it. Shorn of a stadium, home games, with their pitch partly liquefied, this would be the Super Rugby triumph to top them all and would spur some thumping of chests again.

So, from an old Auckland and Blues supporter comes a strange cry, almost catching in the throat.

C'mon, Crusaders ...

- Herald on Sunday

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