Rugby a welcome diversion to a shaken city

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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I’ve arrived in New Zealand, where I’ll spend most of the next month watching the Rugby World Cup that has gripped the nation.

After a breathtaking flight over the Southern Alps (above and below) my first stop is my hometown of Christchurch where I arrived yesterday. Initially the garden city, as it is known, was due to host a number of World Cup matches, including two quarter finals. But all that changed after the tragic, catastrophic earthquake of 22 February – the second major earthquake to hit the city within five months. Since that first quake (4 September 2011) there have been over 8,000 aftershocks and locals have grown conditioned to, though weary of, them.

Arriving at Christchurch Airport though, all seems normal. It’s a lovely experience to be welcomed by the sound of bird song as you exit your aircraft and enter the terminal.

Once you step inside there’s no doubting you’re in rugby country. The excellent JR Duty Free shop has a couple of life-sized rugby dummies suspended from the ceiling and throughout the terminal there are numerous reminders that you’re now in All Blacks country.

As soon as I stepped inside the JR store, an assistant called Tracey came up to me and helped me with my purchases, even offering to carry the basket around while I sought to spend my generous three-bottle spirits allowance. When I said she didn’t need to do that, Tracey replied: “That’s how we do things here.” In 25 years of covering the duty free industry, that’s a first.

JR Duty Free really supported the local community after the earthquakes and it shows in the obvious team spirit of the sales team here.

At the Travelex foreign exchange outlet a big black All Blacks flag was pinned to the wall and Diane, the staff member on duty, seemed as knowledgeable about rugby as she was about currency.

While I waited in the queue I spoke to an Irish visitor called Woody from north of Dublin, as resplendent in his green jumper as I was in my All Blacks version. “I hope you make it all the way to the final and only lose to a Dan Carter drop kick in the final seconds,” I said, probably echoing the sentiments of 4 million Kiwis who are all petrified at the prospect of an Australia-England final.

Everywhere I’ve gone in this city the talk is of the rugby. At the supermarket (below) a counter assistant chatted in great detail about the prospects of various teams and even gave me an All Blacks flag after I said I was visiting the country to watch the rugby.

It’s good to see and hear the people of Christchurch so upbeat about the tournament, considering the relocation of the matches that everyone here had looked forward to for so long.

The World Cup is a welcome distraction from another, much darker subject. For out there, just a few miles from the airport, is a very different Christchurch, full of scenes of devastation that are almost impossible to reconcile with my image of the safe, pretty city where I grew up. More of that in my next Blog.

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