Martin Johnson touched by 'tragic' Christchurch

Three days before England should have been opening their Rugby World Cup campaign in Christchurch, Martin Johnson led a red rose delegation on a goodwill visit to the earthquake-torn city.

England were scheduled to play their first two pool matches, against Argentina and Georgia, and a potential quarter-final at the recently renovated AMI Stadium.

Australia were also scheduled to use Christchurch, a city that sees itself as the rugby heartbeat of New Zealand, for part of their campaign.

Christchurch's role as host city survived earthquakes on September 4 and Boxing Day last year but a 6.3 magnitude tremor on February 22 devastated the city.

The disaster claimed 182 lives and caused damage estimated at 30billion (£15.5billion). City officials estimate 1,200 buildings will need to be demolished.

The AMI Stadium, formerly known as Lancaster Park, had just been given a £30million facelift but the two main stands have sunk into the ground.

A decision is yet to be taken on whether the stadium needs to be demolished.

"When you see such a severe quake, it is not about rugby. It is tragic," said Johnson, as he stood on the stadium's damaged field.

"When we saw what happened in February, we knew rugby wasn't top of the agenda. We just go and play somewhere else - for the people here it is home.

"This is a famous and iconic stadium and it is sad to see it in this state. We should be here playing.

"To see Lancaster Park, as I always think of it, in this state is really sad. It was a no-brainer for us to come up and show our support."

Johnson first visited the stadium with the Lions in 1993, when he watched from the stands as the All Blacks snatched a controversial 20-18 victory in the first Test.

The England manager was also joined on today's visit by scrum coach Graham Rowntree, captain Lewis Moody, Shontayne Hape, Lee Mears, David Wilson and Alex Corbisiero.

England also visited the maternity unit at Christchurch Hospital and Woolston School.

"It is great to get down here and show our support," said Moody.

"I sat in the stands for the first Lions Test in 2005 - I was injured then as well - and seeing it as it is now is sad," said Moody.

"It would have been great to be here. This is a fantastic opportunity to get down here and show some support for a place we would have called home at one stage."

The England management have refused to comment on reports that Sale wing Mark Cueto has been ruled out of Saturday's game against Argentina.

Cueto has been struggling with a lower back problem which refers pain into his quadricep and affects his acceleration.

The Sale wing was forced off just 21 minutes into England's final warm-up international but said last week had shaken the problem.

If Cueto is sidelined for the Argentina game, Johnson will turn to Delon Armitage, who made a try-scoring appearance off the bench against Ireland, or Matt Banahan.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
The truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own