Editorial: Arrival of French a sign of Chch's progress

Les Bleus are here.

Who better in the sporting world to enliven a dull winter's weekend in Christchurch than such a maverick team?

The French rugby squad, their supporters and their colourful ways will light up a packed house at AMI Stadium tonight.

The match is the first for the French in Christchurch since 2003 and also marks a special milestone for the All Blacks, being their 500th test since the first was played in August 1903 against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

That was won by New Zealand by 22-3 in front of a crowd of about 30,000.

The French's eccentric style on the field is to some extent an endearing reflection of our perception of the way they live.

They often play with a certain je nai sa qua, with flair and with elan.

Somehow it is no surprise that all these are French words.

Les Bleus' fans will form a highly vocal minority at Addington. However, tighter security measures these days mean it is less likely that chickens - in honour of le coq gaulois - will be dropped inside the stadium to run wildly around the ground.

The arrival of the French has brought about a resurgence of the buzz that has taken hold of Christchurch in recent months. At lunchtime yesterday that irresistible French accent could be heard echoing across the Re:Start Mall.

The city's spirit has slowly been lifting over the past six months or so.

If 2011 was the year of crisis and 2012 was one of hiatus, this year is turning out to be one of revival, albeit on a modest scale.

Optimism has started to flourish as a consequence of the many post-earthquake creative initiatives on our streets and as construction plans have started firming up.

The golden summer that stretched through to the end of autumn provided the perfect backdrop for an increasing number of visitors keen to see firsthand the effects of the quakes on Christchurch and experience the start of the rebuild. But with the inevitable arrival of winter, the streets that were beginning to hum again started to empty. Until this week.

Tonight's contest has been eagerly awaited and is the city's only rugby test this year.

Cantabrians will be out in force to watch the home side try to press home their advantage after winning last weekend's test and to hope for something better than Eden Park's luke warm and error ridden 80 minutes of rugby.

Fans will be hoping for a milder night than a year ago at AMI, when the All Blacks took on Ireland in freezing temperatures and only narrowly won. Tonight will be cool with a threat of rain.

Opinions vary as to which of their foes the All Blacks and their supporters most look forward to vanquishing.

For a traditional grudge match it is probably hard to look beyond a contest in which New Zealand takes on South Africa or Australia. However, recent history - South Pacific nuclear testing and the Rainbow Warrior bombing - gives a keen edge to Les Bleus encounters, made more poignant by their defeat of New Zealand in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff.

As the noise from the stands swells this evening, one thing is certain. Having test rugby back in Christchurch - whatever the outcome of the match - is a sign of confidence that shows things are moving in the right direction.

The Press will have a live blog of the All Blacks v France test from 7.35pm

The Press