|New Zealand captain Richie McCaw plays rugby with schoolboys in Christchurch a month after the quake [GALLO/GETTY]|
The Rugby World Cup 2011 games that were due to be played in earthquake-hit Christchurch have been divided between five other host venues in New Zealand.
At least 169 people were killed after the 6.3 magnitude quake hit the city on February 22. Many others are still missing.
As the human cost is counted, the Rugby Union-mad city has accepted that the sport’s biggest tournament cannot be played at Christchurch’s Lancaster Park Stadium due to earthquake damage.
Rugby World Cup organisers released their revised schedule on Wednesday.
Dunedin gained two of the relocated matches but gave away one existing game to Invercargill, while Nelson, Wellington and Auckland’s North Harbour will all host one extra game of the September 9-October 23 tournament.
Organisers had already switched two quarterfinals due to be played at Lancaster Park – which suffered heavy damage to the playing surface and stands after New Zealand’ second largest city was devastated by the earthquake – to Auckland’s Eden Park.
“Our desire was always to transfer as many of the Christchurch pool matches as was reasonably possible to other existing South Island venues,” Tournament chief executive Martin Snedden said in a statement after retaining three matches in the south.
“While we know that our rescheduling decisions won’t please everyone, on balance, we have achieved the best possible result taking into account all relevant factors.”
Pools B and C are the only two of the four affected by the changes.
Twice champions Australia will face Italy in their opening Pool C match on September 11 at the North Harbour Stadium in Auckland and play their final group game at Trafalgar Park in Nelson against Russia on October 1.
England and Argentina, who are seeded to advance to the knockout stages from Pool B, will open their campaigns by facing each other in Dunedin on September 10.
England will play their second match against Georgia in the same venue eight days later with Argentina’s key third pool game against Scotland switching to Wellington on September 25.
To cater for the changes, Scotland’s September 14 clash with Georgia was switched form Dunedin to Invercargill.
“Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill were logical choices to each host one additional match. But there were always going to be significant problems going beyond that,” Snedden said.
Dunedin’s enclosed, 30,000-seat Otago Stadium, still under construction, was confirmed as a venue by organisers on Wednesday after they received the necessary guarantees it would be ready but organisers appeared hesitant.
“We came to the view that Dunedin could not have reasonably hosted the Australia v Italy match the day after hosting its first major match, England v Argentina,” Snedden said.
“We were concerned about the pressure that back-to-back matches would impose on what will be a largely untested venue and a new playing surface.
“In addition, accommodation facilities in the city and surrounding region would also have been under severe pressure from the expected influx of 20,000 fans from outside the region that a double-header would bring.”
The venue changes has also led to teams switching their bases for the six-week tournament.
Georgia will switch to Queenstown alongside Ireland, Romania and England with Australia spending four nights at Hammer Springs in North Canterbury, which is a new base.
“We appreciate the patience shown by the teams and fans during this difficult period and are enormously grateful for their support and cooperation of all our partners during what has been a complex process,” Rugby World Cup chairman Bernard Lapasset said.