Highlanders regroup after cancelled Crusaders

The Highlanders will look ahead and now focus on the Blues after their biggest game of the season was cancelled on Saturday.

The side was to have taken on the unbeaten Crusaders on Saturday night at Forsyth Barr Stadium, in Dunedin, in a game which was expected to attract more than 20,000 spectators.

But after the mosque attacks in Christchurch on Friday it was decided - early on Saturday afternoon - the match would not go ahead and it was cancelled.

Each side was set to get two points from the fixture.

It is the second time the Crusaders have had a fixture cancelled. A match against the Hurricanes, due to be played straight after the earthquake in Christchurch in February, 2011 was canned.

That match was not classed as a drawn fixture and if that is also applied to Saturday night's match, then the Crusaders' record 19-game winning streak will continue, as will the Highlanders' winning run at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The decision to cancel the match was made by New Zealand Rugby which had talked to both franchises. The Crusaders players had arrived by plane in Dunedin at 5pm on Friday on what was believed to be the final regional flight out of Christchurch before regional propeller services for the rest of the night were stopped by Air New Zealand.

Police, including the armed offenders squad, had been called to the stadium just before noon on Saturday about an incident but it turned out to be minor.

The bulk of the Crusaders players and management took a bus back to Christchurch late Saturday afternoon, while a group of about a dozen flew back to Christchurch yesterday morning.

The Highlanders were informed of the cancellation decision and then dispersed to be with family and friends on Saturday.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said, in a statement on Saturday, the franchise was working to communicate with ticket holders and fans.

"This is always the biggest fixture on our match calendar and one which our fans look forward to, 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 statement said.

No-one from the Highlanders could be contacted yesterday but it is expected the franchise would have insurance to cover the loss of income from the cancelled match. Tickets will be refunded.

It is a loss for businesses in town which would have expected a big night.

The tight playing calendar means it will not be possible to play the match before the playoffs start in June.

With a draw in the other New Zealand derby between the Hurricanes and the Chiefs, no New Zealand team made much progress over the weekend.

The Chiefs at least did not lose but are still well down the table while the Blues had the bye.

The Highlanders next game is against the Blues in Auckland this Friday night. The Highlanders will then get the following week off as the side has a bye.

Players will find it somewhat strange this week as they had built for a big game at the stadium only for it not to be played.

At least the side should not lack for energy and commitment at Eden Park this Friday night.

The Crusaders remain at the top of the ladder and the Highlanders sit seventh but it is early days in the competition.

In other games over the weekend, the Brumbies beat the Waratahs 19-13 in Canberra and the Stormers beat the Jaguares 35-8 in Cape Town. The Reds made a big comeback to score their first win of the season, a 34-31 win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo and the Lions beat the Rebels 36-33 in Johannesburg.


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