By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Of the five previous Super Rugby finals the Canterbury Crusaders have hosted in Christchurch, none will be more poignant than Saturday’s title showdown with the Jaguares.
The match at Rugby League Park comes just 16 weeks after Christchurch became the site of New Zealand’s worst massacre when 51 people were killed in a mass shooting at two mosques on March 15.
For a population still rebuilding after a 2011 earthquake devastated the city and killed about 190 people, the shootings were a harsh body blow and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson recognised the turmoil the community has faced in recent months.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity as a team and as a city,” Robertson told Radio New Zealand ahead of the team’s bid for a 10th Super Rugby title.
“One thing we’ve done and what I’m really proud of as a group is that every time we’ve played we’ve showed how much we care about it and care about each other and care about our community.
“We’ve always gone back to our true values and what we stand for and how much respect we have in our community and how much work we do for them.”
The shootings also dragged the team into a public debate about the appropriateness of their branding and name, which critics associated with the religious wars between Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages.
The team initiated a review to see if there was a mood for change and said last month they would conduct a full review on a potential rebrand.
The way the team had managed to deal with the off-field turmoil this season was a testament to their tenacity, according to Canterbury Rugby Supporters Club President Michael Wagteveld.
It was similar, Wagteveld thought, to the character shown by the 2011 team, who were forced to play on the road all season after an earthquake irreparably damaged their home ground.
That side fell in the final to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane but not until they had travelled as far afield as London to fulfil their match schedule.
“I hark back to the days of what the Crusaders achieved in the year of the earthquake where they travelled everywhere,” Wagteveld said.
“It was a testament to the team and the attributes of the men involved. After what we have been through in Christchurch, to have a home final… it makes you proud to be a Cantabrian.
“The thing about the Crusaders and Canterbury is that there is still a family feeling about it. It’s about looking after each other and being part of a community.”
Christchurch City Councillor Tim Scandrett, who has the sports and events portfolio, also recognised that the Crusaders had been instrumental in helping bring the community together over the last few months.
“The 15th was obviously a huge tragedy, but if anything it has brought the community together,” Scandrett said.
“The team do an awful lot of work in the community and it’s not just Christchurch but the whole region.”
An Australian man pled not guilty last month to 92 charges stemming from the mosque attacks and will stand trial next May.
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)