WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The Canterbury Crusaders will play their Super rugby match against South Africa’s Sharks at Twickenham, the home of English rugby, to boost finances and raise money for victims of the Christchurch earthquake.
The Crusaders have been forced to play home matches away from their Lancaster Park base in New Zealand’s second largest city after the stadium and turf were damaged in the 6.3-magnitude quake on February 22 that killed at least 166 people.
“We’re extremely grateful to everyone who has played a part in making this match happen,” Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said of the game on March 27 which will be the first Super rugby match played outside the competition’s southern hemisphere base.
“This historic match at Twickenham will hopefully allow us to consolidate our financial situation for this year.”
The Crusaders shifted their first two home matches to Nelson’s Trafalgar Park and while the two games were sold-out, the capacity of just over 10,000 would not have generated enough revenue for the franchise.
“We are extremely grateful to Nelson and the Tasman Rugby Union for hosting our last two matches which have been huge successes and very memorable occasions,” Riach added.
“We look forward to more games in the local region after the Sharks game — this is part of the balance we are seeking between playing in front of our wonderful support from the wider Crusaders’ region and attempting to find financial security.”
The Crusaders will play their home match against South Africa’s Bulls on April 9 in Timaru, about two hours south of Christchurch.
“We’re also looking forward to playing the Bulls in Timaru, which is in our franchise area. We’re sure the people of South Canterbury and further afield will support us in this match against the champions of the past two years.”
The decision to move the match to London was made in the hope of tapping into the large expatriate South African, New Zealand and Australian population living in Britain.
The Rugby Football Union has allowed the Crusaders to make up to 60,000 tickets available at the 82,000-capacity venue.
The competition’s governing body SANZAR supported the move, but said it would be an exception.
“The SANZAR Executive Committee recognised that the tragic and unforeseen events in Christchurch recently required an agile and responsive approach, considering the fact that the Crusaders have been left without a home venue,” SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said.
“Therefore it has agreed with, and is fully supportive of, the Crusaders’ decision to play the match at Twickenham.
“The match is being played in London due to a unique set of circumstances and should be viewed as a ‘one-off’ rather than a new trend of moving Super Rugby matches outside of their usual territories.”
The Crusaders are the southern hemisphere competition’s most successful side with seven titles, while the Sharks top the standings having won all four of their matches this season.