World Cup organisers in New Zealand are confident that one of their showcase stadiums – Lancaster Park in Christchurch, recently redeveloped at a cost running well into seven figures – will not require major repair work following the serious earthquake that struck the South Island city over the weekend. This will come as some relief to England, who will be based there in the early stages of next year's tournament and are scheduled to play Argentina and Georgia in the space of eight days.
Mike Jaspers, the competition's communications manager, said yesterday that the stadium was "pretty unscathed" and that the initial assessment from structural engineers was that nothing had happened to change plans ahead of the opening pool games, which are almost exactly 12 months distant. "We're maintaining a watching brief," he added. "It's been a very dramatic few days and we're very lucky no one died. A few hours either way would have been fatal."
The quake, measured at 7.1, caused considerable damage around the city and struck shortly after thousands of rugby supporters had left the stadium following the ITM Cup game between Canterbury and Bay of Plenty on Friday. The venue is now closed to the public, pending a clean bill of health from the experts. "It was a major shake and we have to be certain that the structural integrity of these new buildings has been maintained before we let people back in," said Bryan Pearson, the Lancaster Park chief executive.
On the other side of the Tri-Nations landscape, there were problems of a less alarming, and wholly more predictable, variety affecting the Springboks, whose poor run of form continued with defeat by the Wallabies in Bloemfontein last Saturday. Jake White, who guided South Africa to the world title in 2007, wants to see the back of his successor, the wildly outspoken Peter de Villiers, and is prepared to return, saying he is ready to "do a hospital job" in an effort to knock the champions back into shape.
"I can't bear to watch the Boks playing like this any more," he remarked. "I'll coach them through to the World Cup next year if the South African Rugby Union wants me. I've already made contact with the president [Oregan Hoskins], but he keeps telling me he has to run the idea past the executive council. But this is extremely frustrating to see and it saddens me. We were the strongest defensive team in world rugby a short while ago. Suddenly, we are conceding 22 tries in a Tri-Nations season. It's unacceptable that such elementary mistakes are being made."
Intriguingly, White indicated that Eddie Jones, the former Wallaby coach who was part of the Boks' back-room team in 2007, was ready to return alongside him. Jones, who quit his director of rugby's job at Saracens 18 months ago, is currently working at club level in Japan, but his friend and partner insisted: "We can start next week, if we're wanted."