How to reflect on a rugby weekend in New Zealand like no other? One which was played out on and off the pitch in the malignant shadow of events in Christchurch which made sporting pursuits appear almost irrelevant but certainly unimportant?

It ended with more questions which will have to be addressed, and thankfully the signs here are good, and it began in the most appropriate way; 46 players with hearts nearly falling into their boots joining in solidarity in the middle of the Waikato Stadium pitch.

The mingling of the Chiefs and Hurricanes before last Friday's match was an unprecedented show of unity on a New Zealand rugby pitch at this level, and the game ended, almost inevitably, in a 23-all draw.

It was a game marred by unusual errors and neither team appeared to know how to win it; a shared-points-result which was almost poetic given the match 24 hours later between the Highlanders and Crusaders in Dunedin was cancelled and the points also shared.

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Hurricanes skipper TJ Perenara, in particular, deserves praise for his sentiments afterwards and it was more proof that he is one of the most eloquent and aware players we have.

His heart-felt social media post the next day which aimed to comfort a grieving section of our society took it to a new level again. Not to put pressure on him, but as we all search for a way forward in our changed landscape, the 27-year-old strikes as a fairly solid role model.

"We never use any excuses, regarding performance. But today was bigger than rugby, I think. Not only for us, but for the Chiefs, and for all of New Zealand," Perenara said minutes after the final whistle.

At Forsyth Barr Stadium in the deep south, the Crusaders never got a chance to add to their record winning streak, which ends at 19 matches, because the official result against the Highlanders was a 0-0 draw – an uncanny echo of the same result in Wellington in February, 2011 when the match against the Hurricanes was cancelled due to the Christchurch earthquakes.

Back then the violence of the shifting tectonic plates meant no player in red and black would have been in the right frame of mind to play and exactly the same applied on Saturday, although in this case it was brought about by the actions of a disturbed individual.

Assistant coach Ronan O'Gara admitted as much in a column in the Irish Examiner when he said: "I'm really not even sure, or comfortable, with the idea that our game against the Highlanders should go ahead tonight in Dunedin."

None of the Crusaders coaches or players were available for comment on the difficulties the atrocities of last Friday would have presented to their preparation.

There are other questions, too, which won't go away, and in particular the calls to change the Crusaders name in the wake of the attack on the Muslim community which has left 50 dead and 50 injured and with many more traumatised.

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Historically, the Crusades were a series of religious and political wars fought between the 11th and 13th centuries and the point is: is it appropriate in today's society to attach such a label to a sports team, and in particular one based four kilometres from the Al Noor mosque?

Reassuringly, it appears that the Crusaders are not turning away from this. After Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge sent a statement to media saying he and his organisation understood the concerns raised, he went further saying the franchise's name will be reviewed.

"In light of recent events in Christchurch, we have heard some comments around the Crusaders team," he said.

"Like all New Zealanders, the Crusaders team and organisation are deeply shocked by this tragedy and our thoughts are with the victims and their families. This is bigger than rugby and we're absolutely heartbroken for our wide community, which is where our thoughts are.

"In terms of the Crusaders name, we understand the concerns that have been raised. Us, the Crusaders name is a reflection of the crusading sprit of the community. What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch on Friday; our crusade is one for peace, unity inclusiveness and community spirit.

"In our view, the is a conversation that we should have and we are taking on board all the feedback that we are receiving, however, we also believe that the time for that is not right now. Emotions are very raw and real at the moment. There is the need for this community to wrap our support around those who are most affected by Friday's events, and that is the immediate focus for the Crusaders team. At an appropriate time, we will thoroughly consider the issues that have been raised and our response to that. That will include conversations with a range of people, including our Muslim community."


After last Friday, there can be no blind acceptance in New Zealand of any symbol which could be construed as divisive to followers of a religion, no matter how apparently benign. Crucially, that must apply to my own industry, the media, too and in particular the messages delivered in the name of so-called "common sense".

Mansbridge said his Crusaders have always served to unite - and he is right. The consideration of a name change is exactly the right thing to do. As he said, the conversation is worth having and it should start, once it is ready, with the Muslim community.

Patrick McKendry, the Herald's chief rugby writer, was employed as the Crusaders media manager from 2009-11.