Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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It was far more than a rugby match. It was a coming home.
Last night in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand, a city devastated by two major earthquakes over the past two years and more than 8,000 aftershocks, regional franchise the Crusaders celebrated their long-awaited return by beating the South African Cheetahs 28-21.
Try telling it to some of the notoriously one-eye local fans and you might get short shrift but actually the score didn’t matter. What did matter was to see the famous red and black jumpers back on Christchurch turf, worn by revered All Blacks such as Dan Carter (making his return from injury), Kieran Read and Israel Dagg.
The match, held at the new 17,000-seater Christchurch Stadium, was the team’s first match in their home city for nearly two years.
Their former home ground, AMI Stadium (long known as Lancaster Park), was ruined by the February 2011 earthquake, the second major quake to hit the city within six months and which killed 185 people. Much of the Central Business District, its infrastructure already weakened by the 4 September 2010 earthquake and its aftershocks, was destroyed (it is still largely off limits) and vast areas of the city rendered uninhabitable.
When I was in New Zealand last year for the Rugby World Cup, I strolled past AMI Stadium (formerly Lancaster Park), which was due to host a series of Rugby World Cup matches, including two quarter finals. No rugby would be played there. Damaged severely by the second quake, the whole stadium was rendered unusable and unsafe and the matches transferred to other cities. In its vast, twisted concrete emptiness it was a stark, eerie and desperately sad sight, the ultimate symbol of a stricken city.
Heroically the Crusaders went on the road for the duration of their Super 15 campaign in 2011, falling only at the last hurdle – the Grand Final versus the Queensland Reds – in one of the great sporting feel-good stories of all time.
Last year The Moodie Report hosted the ‘Virtual Rugby World Cup’ in which 11 companies sponsored a team in the real tournament in return for a US$3,000 charity pledge. The proceeds were split equally between the actual winners (the All Blacks from New Zealand) and the virtual winners (Scotland). Each nominated charity won US$16,500.
Naturally, The Moodie Report sponsored the All Blacks, choosing as our charity the RWC Christchurch Appeal (www.rwcchristchurchappeal.com), which is dedicated to helping restore Christchurch’s wrecked rugby infrastructure at all levels.
Saturday night’s match… correction, Saturday night’s homecoming, was a vital part of that restoration.