Quake effect on RWC unknown
Devastation in Christchurch (AP)
Christchurch - International rugby officials said it was too early to judge whether the World Cup will be affected by the powerful earthquake which struck Christchurch on Tuesday.
There were no reports of earthquake damage to AMI Stadium, the Christchurch home of the Canterbury Crusaders Super 15 team and a major venue for the World Cup this year.
The second major quake to hit the city in five months, Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude temblor killed at least 65 people and caused massive destruction.
Christchurch is due to host seven matches during the September 9 - October 23 World Cup, including two quarterfinals and matches on the opening weekend involving former World Cup winners Australia and England.
The pool matches involve Argentina-England, Australia-Italy, England-Georgia, Argentina-Scotland and Australia-Russia.
The International Rugby Board issued a statement saying its "thoughts and deepest sympathies" were with the people of Christchurch, adding that it was "inappropriate to comment on the status of the World Cup infrastructure or operations."
"The focus at this point must be on the emergency response," the IRB said.
There also were no early indications about possible changes to the Crusaders' first Super 15 home match against the Sydney-based Waratahs on March 4.
The Crusaders have been the most successful team in Super rugby, the southern hemisphere's premier provincial competition, and rugby was an important part of the social fabric of the city. They were involved in local fundraising for recovery from the September quake as recently as two weeks ago.
Robbie Deans, a former All Black who had a successful tenure as a Canterbury player and coach before moving to coach Australia's national team, said the city of 350,000 on New Zealand's South Island was traumatized by a 7.1 earthquake which hit on its outskirts last September but was not as destructive.
"It is a close-knit community. They've been through this already, but this is different ... this is tragic, and it's going to be tough to swallow," Deans was quoted as saying from Sydney by Australian Associated Press.
Deans, whose mother and sister live in Christchurch and survived the latest quake, said the people of Christchurch were resilient "but the reality is in this instance there has been a loss of life - you can never bring that back - it's tragic."
He said it was no time to consider the impact of the quake on the World Cup.
"It's hard to know - it doesn't warrant thinking about at the moment, it's not a priority."
South African rugby expressed its condolences and support in a letter to the New Zealand Rugby Union.
"Our rugby community feels a special bond to New Zealand and what has happened in Christchurch has been deeply felt here," SARU President Oregan Hoskins wrote.
"Please be assured that SARU and the South African rugby community will assist the NZRU and the people of New Zealand in any way that we possibly can."
Victor Matfield, captain of the Super 15 champion Bulls, said they were thinking of their Crusaders counterparts and families.
"Our thoughts are going out to the people of New Zealand and the Crusaders in Christchurch who we play against so often," Matfield said.
"Hopefully they are fine and their families are fine and we would like to let them know that we are here to support them if there is anything they need in this difficult time.
"Hopefully, it is the last of the earthquakes before the World Cup."