WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Super Rugby match between the Otago Highlanders and Canterbury Crusaders scheduled for later on Saturday has been canceled after a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday killed 49 people.
New Zealand Rugby said the decision to cancel the match in Dunedin, some 360 kilometers south of Christchurch, had been made after consultation with both teams, police and local authorities.
The nine-times Super Rugby champion Crusaders are based in Christchurch.
“Advice from police and venue management was that the fixture could go ahead, however, with strong agreement from both teams we have made the final call not to proceed as a mark of respect for the events that have occurred in Christchurch,” New Zealand Rugby’s Nigel Cass said in a statement.
Crusaders chief executive Colin Mainsbridge said the attacks had stunned the entire community in the city, the South Island’s largest.
“Yesterday’s horrific attacks have left us all feeling stunned,” Mainsbridge said.
“All other issues and considerations pale in significance.
“We will now regroup and make arrangements for the team to return home as soon as possible to be back in their community and with their families.”
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said while the South Island derby was arguably the most high-profile of their regular season home games, it was the right decision to cancel. The Highlanders had been expecting a crowd of 20,000.
“This is always the biggest fixture on our match calendar and one which our fans look forward to,” Clark said.
“But when we think about the massive loss of life and absolute devastation that has been wreaked on people in Christchurch, we feel this is the right decision.”
The match is the second cancellation of a high-profile sporting event with the third cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh called off on Friday. It had been scheduled to begin in Christchurch on Saturday.
Members of the Bangladesh team narrowly avoided being caught up in the shooting at the Al Noor mosque when they arrived for Friday prayers.
Police have said 41 people were killed at the mosque, while seven others died at the Linwood mosque. One more died in hospital later.
It is the second time in the last decade that a Crusaders match in Super Rugby has been canceled.
Their clash with the Wellington Hurricanes in late February 2011 was scratched after the devastating earthquake that flattened much of central Christchurch and killed almost 200 people.
That match was deemed a draw and both teams awarded two points by governing body SANZAAR.
A NZR spokesperson said the decision on the points for Saturday’s game would be made by SANZAAR, who were not immediately available for comment.
The Super Rugby match between the Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday went ahead, although players and the crowd observed a minute’s silence before kickoff.
There was also a minute’s silence before the ACT Brumbies match with the New South Wales Waratahs in Canberra, and at the National Rugby League match between Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs at Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday evening.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney