London trip fails to fill Crusaders’ coffers

While the Crusaders’ match at Twickenham last Sunday proved an on-field success, the New Zealand club says it was not the financial lifeline it hoped for in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

The Super Rugby team remains homeless and cash-strapped after Christchurch’s AMI Stadium was damaged in the February 22 tremor which claimed more than 160 lives, forcing it to host “home” matches in venues holding barely 10 000 fans.

The match at London’s famous Twickenham, where the Crusaders emerged 44-28 victors in a pulsating clash with South Africa’s Sharks, was supposed to shore up the club’s books after the quake.

However, the 35 094 crowd at the first Super 15 match ever played outside the southern hemisphere fell well short of the 55 000 anticipated, leaving the competition’s most successful team in a financial hole.

“It has not been the blockbusting financial result we might have hoped for but we certainly covered our costs and made a little bit and we’ve been part of a unique occasion,” chief executive Hamish Riach told the Christchurch Press.

Riach blamed the disappointing crowd on the lack of time available to promote the hurriedly organised game among Britain’s large New Zealand and South African expatriate communities.

“People here [in London] have said they think we did pretty well to get in excess of 35 000 in 10 days in a busy and cluttered market,” he said.

“We are kind of sitting here thinking it has been an adventure, worth it and special, without being the financial hit we had hoped.”

‘Like everyone else’
Had the Twickenham match provided the expected windfall, the Crusaders would have played the majority of their home fixtures this season in the South Island towns of Nelson and Timaru.

There is now speculation the Crusaders may be forced to transfer at least one of those fixtures to Auckland’s 50 000-capacity Eden Park, which is also likely to host “home” games if the Crusaders make the finals.

Canterbury Rugby Supporters Club president Dick Tayler said that moving home games out of the region, regarded as New Zealand’s rugby heartland, was a blow to fans but they understood it was unavoidable in the circumstances.

He said the Crusaders, Super Rugby’s most successful team, had suffered alongside the people of Christchurch, with club director Philip McDonald killed in the quake and many players’ homes damaged.

But he believed the rugby powerhouse was still capable of overcoming its financial woes and itinerant schedule to register a competition win that would mean more to fans than to any of the Crusaders’ seven previous titles.

“They’re like everyone here in Christchurch, there’s been devastation in their personal lives, they’ve lost someone close,” he said.

“Here in Christchurch families have been ripped apart, there’s been damage to houses and workplaces, people losing jobs.

A team to be wary of
“Along with that you’ve got people trying to play their best rugby for their franchise. It’s made things more difficult for them and their supporters but they can still do it,” McDonald said.

Despite their off-field problems, the Crusaders still boast a star-studded line-up featuring 14 All Blacks, including flyhalf Dan Carter, rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams and national captain Richie McCaw.

They top the New Zealand Super 15 conference and at least one British rugby commentator has said they would be more than a match for any northern hemisphere international team.

After the convincing win at Twickenham, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder sounded an ominous warning that Super 15’s nomads could notch up yet another competition win to boost morale in their rugby-mad community.

“I know what we are capable of and we can be better than we were in the second-half,” he said. — Sapa-AFP

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Neil Sands
Neil Sands
Neil Sands is a journalist with AFP.

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