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Gloomy return for Super Rugby after mosque attacks

The Otago Highlanders paid their respects at a mosque on Thursday as Super Rugby prepared to make a sombre return to action a week after the Christchurch killings.

Sunwolves and Reds’ players observe a minute of silence for victims of the mosque attacks in Christchurch before their Super Rugby round 5 match between the Sunwolves of Japan and Reds of Australia at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on March 16, 2019. – A right-wing extremist armed with semi-automatic weapons rampaged through two mosques in the city of Christchurch during afternoon prayers on March 15, killing 49 worshippers and wounding dozens more. (Photo by Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP)

Players laid a wreath and handed over a commemorative jersey to community leaders at the mosque in Dunedin, before travelling to Auckland for Friday’s clash with the Blues.

Last Friday’s massacre at two Christchurch mosques, which left 50 people dead, has stunned rugby-mad New Zealand.

“For us, after the tragic events of last Friday, this was the first chance as a club and individuals we’ve had to show our respect and our condolences to the Muslim community,” Highlanders CEO Roger Clark told TVNZ.

“Somebody said to me it’s a small Muslim community and they’re all connected to someone in Christchurch, so for us to be able to do anything for them is important,” he added.

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Further tributes are expected when games resume on Friday. Last week, the Highlanders’ match against the Christchurch-based Crusaders was cancelled, but others went ahead.

The Crusaders, whose name has been called into question after the mass shootings, will hold a minute’s silence before Saturday’s game in Sydney against the NSW Waratahs.

“This tragedy has rocked our community, and we really feel for all those affected by the events of last Friday in Christchurch,” said Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.

All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams, a devout Muslim and a former Crusaders player, is skipping Friday’s game for the Blues to support those grieving in Christchurch.

“We admire what he is standing for, the fact he would like to go down there, grieve and be part of the support for the region and the people of New Zealand,” said Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry.

Meanwhile Stormers captain Siya Kolisi said the team had debated whether lock Salmaan Moerat, who is Muslim, should travel to New Zealand for Saturday’s game against the Wellington Hurricanes.

“One of the senior guys in our team was worried about it,” Kolisi told TVNZ. “But we’ll be with him at all times and I know the people of New Zealand will look after us.”

Separately, Japan’s Sunwolves prepare to play the Lions in Singapore knowing this could be their last season in Super Rugby.

Competition organisers are due to make an announcement on Friday following reports that the Sunwolves are about to be axed — six months before Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup.

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