Richie McCaw is served a daily reminder of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch each time he navigates his helicopter over Lancaster Park.

From ground level, the famous stadium is padlocked, crumbling and overgrown. From the skies, it appears lonely, empty and surrounded by vast areas of demolition.

'It's pretty sad to see it sitting the way it is,' said McCaw, who has qualified as a pilot since retiring as All Blacks captain after the 2015 World Cup.

The initial tremors and aftershocks killed 185 people and left £20billion worth of damage. It brought the city to its knees and the Crusaders team relocated to the less damaged Rugby League Park - now the AMI Stadium.


Six years on, there are still open wounds across the skyline, but Saturday's showpiece between the Lions and the Crusaders is part of the healing process for a community getting back to its feet.

'Tourism has taken a big hit,' said McCaw. 'People think, "Oh, nothing to see here, it's all broken", and pass through to Queenstown or the north. This is a chance to show how far we've come.'

Since retiring, McCaw has settled into a nine-to-five working lifestyle and has kept rugby at arm's length.

He has clocked over 400 hours flying time with Christchurch Helicopters. When another earthquake struck Kaikoura, 126 miles north of Christchurch, last year, he helped to evacuate tourists and transport emergency personnel.

'I've not been back to the stadium since my last game there in 2015,' said McCaw.

'I haven't been to watch any Crusaders games. Going and sitting in the stands, you usually get a bit of hassle and I didn't really need that for a bit. It can be pretty hard to watch the games.

'But there's no way I'm missing the Lions. I'm going along with my wife, Gemma, and it will be nice to be back. The Crusaders will be pumped. They'll go out there and play the game of their lives.

'The Otago guys who beat the Lions in 1993 still talk about it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They've got nothing to lose. If they get beaten, everyone will say, "Well, we probably should have", while anything else is a real success. For the non-All Blacks, this is their Test match.'


The high-profile fixture is a chance for the city to channel its pride and take a small step forward alongside the continuing struggles with insurance pay-outs, regeneration and drops in business.

But the Lions are seeking pride of their own after their slow start to the tour. McCaw sees a side who are struggling to merge the different styles of play from Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland.

'They still look like four teams trying to gel together,' he said. 'People say the Tests are a foregone conclusion, but they'll get better and anything can happen in sport. Look at Japan beating South Africa. Look at how Ireland put pressure on the All Blacks in Chicago and got their way.

'Owen Farrell is calm and makes the right decisions and they could be dangerous if he's given a free rein.

'I was really impressed by Ross Moriarty, too. He was the pick of the forwards against the Barbarians.'

McCaw admits he was not overly familiar with Moriarty and acknowledges the survey quoted by Warren Gatland - claiming 78 per cent of Kiwis cannot name a single Lions player - is probably 'about right'.

As for the All Blacks squad, which was named on Thursday, the former No 7 is confident Steve Hansen has the strength in depth to deal with the injury to influential hooker Dane Coles.

'When you leave out guys like Malakai Fekitoa and Nehe Milner-Skudder, you've got some depth,' said McCaw. 'Dane Coles is a loss. He's a key player, but it's an opportunity for someone like Codie Taylor. If Dane Coles is a 10 out of 10, the next guy's not going to be a zero out of 10. He might be a nine-and-a-half out of 10, so you lose a bit, but not that much.

'As an All Black, you're expected to win. They accept defeat if the opposition is better than you. I can't see it, but you never know.'