Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa first heard about the attack when his brother Mike, a Crusaders front-rower, sent a message to say he was safe. Michael and his wife live not far from one of the mosques which was attacked.
The Brumbies’ other link to Christchurch is Pete Samu, who will return to the city this weekend after helping the Crusaders win the past two Super Rugby championships.
“Mike sent me a message before all of the news had come out, but the [Crusaders] were in Dunedin at the time so they were OK. But Mike’s wife was in Christchurch though,” Alaalatoa said.
“That mosque wasn’t too far from his place, so it was scary. It’s a sad thing that’s happened to their community and there were a lot of families involved.
“I know the Crusaders emotionally are going to be up for this one to show their support for the whole Christchurch community.”
The Crusaders won 19 games in a row in Super Rugby before they were beaten by the NSW Waratahs two weeks ago in what was the team’s first game since the shootings.
There have been plenty of off-field distractions since, including calls for the club to change its name because of its historical meaning.
But the Crusaders are better than anyone at rising to a challenge and they haven’t lost to the Brumbies in 10 years.
“We know we need to go over there with the mindset to play some footy, we’re not going there to shutdown,” said Brumbies coach Dan McKellar.
“[The Waratahs win] showed the Crusaders are human. You put them under pressure, get in their face and turn up with physical intent and take your opportunities, they’re beatable.
“We’re not playing against 15 ‘Supermen’. But they’re very good players, clinical with what they do and we have to make sure we take our chances.”
Allan Alaalatoa will be making his comeback from injury in the trans-Tasman derby as the Brumbies attempt to end a 19-year losing streak in Christchurch.
Alaalatoa dislocated his wrist three weeks ago, but it popped back into place and he avoided a two-month stint on the sideline.
Most of his family have made the trip to New Zealand for the sibling showdown, with Mike starting on the Crusaders’ bench.
“He already knows my wrist is injured, but it’s not going to stop me from trying to get a shot on him,” Alaalatoa said.
“He knows that as soon as we cross the line, brothers are put aside. I’m sure he’ll take his chance to put a shot on me and I’ll do the same.”
The returns of Alaalatoa and winger Toni Pulu are offset by the absence of Wallabies trio Scott Sio, Rory Arnold and Folau Faingaa, who have been rested this week. David Pocock is also unavailable for selection.
Many have already written the Brumbies off because of the players they will be missing. But Alaalatoa says the team is confident it can cause an upset and breakthrough for the what would be a famous Brumbies win.
Alaalatoa and 86-Test veteran James Slipper add the experience to the front row, while Josh Mann-Rea replaces Faingaa at hooker.
“We have to make sure we focus on what we can put forward as a team, which we haven’t really seen over the last couple of games,” Alaalatoa said.
“I think the problems we’ve had are easy fixes. You can’t dwell on them for a whole week … you have to have a plan to go forward and find quick solutions.
“The confidence is still there even though we’re two wins from six games. Instead of having 40 minutes efforts, we know it’s about 80 minutes of quality from us.”
SUPER RUGBY ROUND EIGHT
Saturday: Canterbury Crusaders v ACT Brumbies at Christchurch, 3.15pm. TV time: Live on Fox Sports.
Brumbies: 1. James Slipper, 2. Josh Mann-Rea, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Murray Douglas, 6. Pete Samu, 7. Tom Cusack, 8. Lachlan McCaffrey, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 11. Toni Pulu, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Tom Banks. Reserves: 16. Connal McInerney, 17. Vunipola Fifita, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Sam Carter, 20. Jahrome Brown, 21. Matt Lucas, 22. Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23. Andy Muirhead.
Crusaders: 1. Joe Moody, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Scott Barrett, 5. Quinten Strange, 6. Ethan Blackadder, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Kieran Read, 9. Mitchell Drummond, 10. Richie Mounga, 11. Sevu Reece, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Tim Bateman, 14. Will Jordan, 15. David Havili. Reserves: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Harry Allan, 18. Michael Alaalatoa, 19. Sam Whitelock, 20. Jordan Taufua, 21. Bryn Hall, 22. Brett Cameron, 23. Leicester Faingaanuku.
Chris Dutton is the sports editor at The Canberra Times.