There cannot be anyone who has not been deeply saddened by the horrific events in Christchurch this week. The loss of life and destruction in a single city is immeasurable for a country with a small population like New Zealand. Given the latest reports of significant numbers of international students who are currently missing, the tragedy has extended across the globe.
Christchurch and New Zealand are of course synonymous with rugby. The Canterbury Rugby Football Union was the first rugby union established in New Zealand back in 1879. It has the most clubs of the New Zealand unions with an impressive quality of rugby down its pyramid. Canterbury’s Super Rugby franchise is by far and away the most successful having been champions on seven occasions. Canterbury also currently holds the Ranfurly Shield, little known outside of New Zealand but the most prestigious of the domestic competitions.
The list of former All Blacks from the Canterbury region is significant and many Cantabrians have had success in the UK. Indeed, former Crusader, Thomas Waldrom, may well become player of the year in his first season since transferring to the Leicester Tigers. Many readers of this blog may have toured in Christchurch with the British Lions or one of the home nations. Some may even have played for clubs in the Canterbury area, with New Zealand so often a finishing school for young talented British players whilst on gap years. Just ask Martin Johnson who played rugby there in his early career. It is therefore entirely appropriate that a minute silence will be held at all Six Nations matches this weekend.
It is genuinely sad that New Zealand has been subjected to such a dark day in what should be one of its greatest years of celebration in holding the Rugby World Cup this Autumn. It is clearly one for another day whilst rescuers continue to recover survivors, but let us hope that Prime Minister, John Key, and RWC organiser, Martin Snedden, are right in suggesting that Christchurch could still hold their allocation of matches, however inconceivable that currently appears. Nothing would be a more powerful symbol of the city’s resilience and that of its people than to see the All Blacks run out at Lancaster Park in seven month’s time.
Time may never heal the pain and sadness that so many people are currently feeling, in particular those who have lost loved ones. Time will of course allow homes to be rebuilt and Christchurch to be redeveloped. The city is unlikely to ever look or feel quite the same again. But, as the Dean of Christchurch’s iconic cathedral, which lies in ruins, poignantly reminded us in a news interview earlier this week: buildings are just buildings. It is the people that matter.
At times such as this, sport becomes an irrelevance but if Cantabrians are looking for a foundation on which to look forward, it may be the 15 guys on the park down at Lancaster Park. Buildings can tumble but 130 years of a successful rugby union may have stronger foundations from which people can draw strength and inspiration.
In the meantime, kia kaha to the people of Christchurch, to Kiwis generally and to those who have been affected throughout the world by this sad event. Our thoughts are truly with you.
By Lee Bagshaw