New Zealand captain Richie McCaw is to be the 'face' of an appeal by World Cup organisers designed to raise funds to support rugby in earthquake-hit Christchurch.
The city's Lancaster Park, one of world Rugby Union's best-known venues, was due to stage several World Cup pool matches and two quarterfinals before the February 22 earthquake that killed 181 people led to the games being relocated.
Now the Rugby World Cup (RWC) Christchurch Appeal aims to help restore Canterbury's rugby infrastructure at all levels of the game after numerous clubs and their players were badly affected by the earthquake.
All funds raised will be passed on to the Canterbury Rugby Earthquake Charitable Trust, administered by the Canterbury Rugby Football Union.
World Cup and IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "The response of the global rugby family to the February 22 earthquake was heartfelt and immediate.
"Messages of support and sympathy came from all over the world as we united as one behind our friends in Christchurch and New Zealand. Over the next seven weeks New Zealanders will be joined by rugby fans from all corners of the earth to celebrate rugby's showcase event.
"The tournament will provide an appropriate platform to recognise the ongoing challenges faced by Christchurch and the rugby community through the RWC Christchurch Appeal," the Frenchman added.
McCaw, himself a Cantabrian, thanked fans for their anticipated support by saying: "We really appreciate your help in supporting us to rebuild rugby in Christchurch through the Rugby World Cup Christchurch Appeal."
Meanwhile, England manager Martin Johnson lauded the optimism of rugby fans in Christchurch as he conducted a goodwill visit to the earthquake-stricken city.
Johnson's men had been scheduled to play pool fixtures against Argentina and Georgia in the city before the earthquake in February led to the games being moved to Dunedin, where England begin their campaign against the Pumas on Saturday.
"It's sad to see a stadium in this state," said Johnson, speaking to reporters as he stood on one of the many molehills littering the pitch.
"I came out in 1993, sat in the stand. I came out on the Wednesday, the (British and Irish) Lions played on the Saturday and (New Zealand's) Grant Fox kicked that last minute penalty.
Johnson dismissed suggestions England had been inconvenienced by moving to Dunedin, saying there was more at stake.
"It's not about rugby is it? People say 'how has it affected you?', well we just go and play somewhere else.
"We got to the airport this (Wednesday) morning and people wanted our autographs. They were jumping up and down, everyone was really excited about the tournament," added Johnson, England's 2003 World Cup-winning captain.
"It's great to be here, but obviously not in these circumstances. It's sad we are not playing here. We've had a great welcome, we see the optimism that's there and we wish you well," Johnson told Christchurch mayor Bob Parker.
Parker had mixed emotions in welcoming Johnson, as well as several England players and support staff.
"It's a proud but a sad moment for us in Christchurch," Parker said. "It means a huge lot to us. We've been through a hell of a lot in the last 12 months.
"It all started for us on September 4 when we had a 7.1 magnitude earthquake early one morning come roaring across the Canterbury plains and it did an enormous amount of damage.
"However, at that time our stadium here looked like it was going to be ok and our hearts rose because we thought we are still going to have the pool games we fought for," he explained.
The Mayor continued: "If we were optimistic then, and we didn't lose any lives in that quake, our hearts really went through the floor on February 22 when another earthquake from the other direction, came roaring through," he said of a shock that killed 181 people.
"That was a 6.3 and that broke our hearts...It meant that any opportunities we might have that at that point to get the stadium up and running for the Rugby World Cup was out of the question."
Parker added several areas of the stadium, including the Deans Stand, built specially for the World Cup and named after the family of former All Black turned Australia coach Robbie Deans to recognise their contribution to Canterbury rugby, had sunk into the ground and become unsafe.
The mayor said it was still too soon to say if rugby would ever be played again at Lancaster Park.
"The prospects of playing here again are still in the air and the reason for that is we will have to undertake a scale of engineering which is very, very rare," Parker said.
"There is technology out there that can do that, but it's very rarely been done on this scale.
"You've got to balance things up and ask 'what's the cost of this?' If we rebuild the stadium it may not be back on this site again and those are questions that have still to be answered by the city," he said.
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