Eight All Blacks today made an emotional pilgrimage to the earthquake-devastated Christchurch red zone.

The players, along with coach Graham Henry, were given a guided tour around the fringe of the cordoned-off city centre by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) chief executive Roger Sutton and deconstruction manager Warwick Isaacs.

They were shown the piles of rubble and gaping holes where buildings once stood, and told which areas were next ear-marked for demolition.

The players, casually dressed in jeans, polo shirts and sneakers, took time to read messages of support and prayers posted on the wire perimeter fence surround the red zone. They also chatted with autograph hunters and posed for photos.


They paused at the iconic Bridge of Remembrance, which will be saved from demolition, and Henry spoke to the assembled crowd.

He said: "It is humbling to be here. It reinforces what we have seen on TV over the last few months.

"I'm just pleased to be here and support the Christchurch people as much as I can."

He added that he had just visited his 95-year-old mother who lives in the city, and said she was taking it all in her stride. Henry said: "She's pretty staunch."

The players who attended were Keven Mealamu, Ali Williams, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Zac Guildford, Sam Whitelock, Andrew Hore, and Victor Vito.

All Blacks winger Kahui struggled to comprehend the extent of the damage, especially to the well-known 'Strip' of bars along the banks of the river Avon.

He said: "It's pretty devastating to see a place where you've spent a lot of time, where you used to hang out, and have a lot of friends, in a state like this.

"Seeing it all brings it all to life. It's a disaster zone. On TV you don't really see how bad it is.


"It's pretty moving - knowing people lost loved ones, and lost their business. I really have a lot of sympathy with the people here."

Number eight Vito was guided through the devastation by team-mate, and Christchurch lad Whitelock.

Vito said: "It's really weird. Apparently the whole city has sunk a bit. It's kind of unreal."

Whitelock had just finished training at Rugby Park when the February 22 quake struck.

He said: "I was just getting out of the shower so was running around with a towel on. It didn't stop me running out the door, smoking everyone else.

"My house is St Albans is alright, but only by about 50 metres.

"But it's real cool to come home and see friends and family. For some people it's the only real opportunity to feel really involved in the World Cup and we're excited to meet them and spend some time with them."

Guildford, fellow Crusader, added: "I'd just got home from training and was playing a bit of Playstation. I just ran outside. I don't know if that was the right thing to do or not, but I was gone."

Afterwards, Ali Williams and Andrew Hore asked deconstruction manager Isaacs for a prolonged personal tour.

Later in the day, the team was due to star at the Stand in Black event at Centennial Park, by Pioneer Stadium, to meet hundreds of adoring fans.

The All Blacks arrived in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon for a three-day visit.

Christchurch was scheduled to host seven Rugby World Cup matches but they were reallocated after the February 22 earthquake devastated the city.

Half of the All Blacks squad have close ties with the city, with 15 players either having grown up in Christchurch or have played for Canterbury or the Crusaders. Twelve players turned out for the Crusaders in the Super 15 this year alone

The Crusaders contingent felt the terrifying force of the February 22 quake as they had just finished training at Rugby Park. Many players, including Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Owen Frank, Brad Thorne and Kieran Reid, have homes in the city.