Rugby World Cup
Devastated Christchurch a World Cup doubt
ESPNscrum Staff
February 23, 2011
A general view of AMI Stadium, Christchurch, February 13, 2010
Christchurch's AMI Stadium will be assessed for damage on Wednesday © Getty Images

The deadly Christchurch earthquake is set to have far-reaching effects on rugby union, including the possible relocation of World Cup matches at this year's tournament.

The International Rugby Board has set up a special unit to observe the crisis and consider alternative venues if deemed necessary.

The disaster is shaping as one of New Zealand's darkest days in peacetime, with a death toll of 75 almost certain to rise as rescue workers pick through the rubble of devastated buildings in the country's second biggest city.

In immediate and tragic news for the sport, a director of the Crusaders, Southland-born Ashburton accountant Philip McDonald, has been confirmed killed by the Canterbury Rugby Union's chief executive Hamish Riach.

"We're feeling shell-shocked and pretty numb by that and we're trying to get our heads around that fact," Riach told Television New Zealand. He said the team had been shaken up by the event but that he did not know of any other players or staff in the organisation who were in danger.

The Crusaders are drawn to play the Hurricanes in Wellington in Round 2 before they are scheduled to host the Waratahs in Christchurch on March 4.

Riach said AMI Stadium would be assessed on Wednesday and although the possibility of the match going ahead as planned was not ruled out, officials on both sides of the Tasman said Super Rugby scheduling should take a back seat to the ongoing rescue operation for now.

The Crusaders should emerge as a unifying force once the city's recovery phase begins but the utter destruction to Christchurch's buildings and infrastructure could hinder its capacity to host its scheduled seven World Cup games with international teams, officials and fans set to converge on New Zealand's host venues in September and October.

Riach said Christchurch's prospects of being such a focal point seem bleak at this very early stage.

"Right now it doesn't feel like we could host very much at all," Riach said. "We've been looking forward to it [the World Cup] for five years and it's an event that promised so much for the city and the wider region and you'd certainly hope so. It's too early to say. Everyone is in the immediacy of this traumatic event and we're not quite getting our heads around that space just yet, but gosh I hope so but who knows?"

Tournament organisers had contingency plans but would not speculate about the effect the quake would have on the World Cup, Rugby NZ 2011 communications manager Mike Jaspers said.

"Right at this moment it is too early to talk about any implications for the tournament," he said. "Right now all that has got to take a back seat while Christchurch deals with the aftermath of this tragedy. Our thoughts are very much with the people of the region. Any assessment must wait while rescue and recovery efforts take priority."

His sentiments were echoed by the IRB in a statement saying its "thoughts and deepest sympathies" were with the people of Christchurch, adding that it was "inappropriate to comment on the status of the World Cup infrastructure or operations".

"The focus at this point must be on the emergency response," the IRB said.

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) wrote to the NZRU to express its condolences and offer solidarity with New Zealanders and their rugby community following the earthquake. "Our rugby community feels a special bond to New Zealand and what has happened in Christchurch has been deeply felt here," said Oregan Hoskins, president of SARU.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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