Belfast Telegraph

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Johnson touched by 'tragic' city

Three days before England should have been opening their Rugby World Cup campaign in Christchurch, Martin Johnson led a red rose delegation on a goodwill visit to the earthquake-torn city.

England were scheduled to play their first two pool matches, against Argentina and Georgia, and a potential quarter-final at the recently renovated AMI Stadium. Australia were also scheduled to use Christchurch, a city that sees itself as the rugby heartbeat of New Zealand, for part of their campaign.

"When you see such a severe quake, it is not about rugby. It is tragic," said Johnson, as he stood on the stadium's damaged field.

"When we saw what happened in February, we knew rugby wasn't top of the agenda. We just go and play somewhere else - for the people here it is home.

"This is a famous and iconic stadium and it is sad to see it in this state. We should be here playing. To see Lancaster Park, as I always think of it, in this state is really sad. It was a no-brainer for us to come up and show our support."

Christchurch's role as host city survived earthquakes on September 4 and Boxing Day last year but a 6.3 magnitude tremor on February 22 devastated the city.

The disaster claimed 182 lives and caused damage estimated at $30billion (£15.5billion). City officials estimate 1,200 buildings will need to be demolished.

The AMI Stadium had just been given a £30million facelift but the two main stands have sunk into the ground. A decision is yet to be taken on whether the stadium needs to be demolished.

The England manager was also joined on Wednesday's visit by scrum coach Graham Rowntree, captain Lewis Moody, Shontayne Hape, Lee Mears, David Wilson and Alex Corbisiero.

England also visited the maternity unit at Christchurch Hospital and Woolston School.


From Belfast Telegraph