Not pitch 'perfect' but Singapore ready for Super Rugby

Not pitch 'perfect' but Singapore ready for Super Rugby

Singapore (AFP) - With Super Rugby set for its Singapore debut Saturday, the hosts admitted the pitch of the city-state's National Stadium was "not perfect" -- but insisted it was ready for the rough-and-tumble of the competition just days after a Madonna concert at the venue.

The head of the stadium complex said the playing surface, which was slammed by visiting football teams before undergoing a revamp last year, was "extremely playable" ahead of the clash between Japanese newcomers Sunwolves and the Cheetahs from South Africa.

Saturday's match is one of three "home" fixtures in Singapore for the Sunwolves as rugby continues its bid for Asian fans, especially in the build-up to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Chief Operating Officer of Singapore Sports Hub Oon Jin Teik told AFP: "Because this stadium is multi-use and multi-purpose, it will undoubtedly be exposed to all the possible hazards.

"We have that assurance right now that we have a team of professionals working on it."

He said it was "extremely safe and extremely playable" before cautioning: "But, it?s not perfect."

The Sunwolves have made the nearly eight-hour trip from Tokyo to face the Cheetahs, who have flown 11 hours from Bloemfontein.

Singapore will also host a leg of the world sevens series next month in the retractable-roofed, air-cooled 55,000-seat venue. The National Stadium is the centrepiece of the city-state's Sports Hub, a SG$1.3 billion ($1 billion) multi-venue complex that opened in 2014.

The previous pitch drew flak from visiting football teams such as Italian heavyweights Juventus and five-time world champions Brazil, whose coach Dunga complained that "most of it is sand" and warned it could injure his players.

In late 2014, a match pitting the Maori All Blacks against Asia Pacific Dragons was also scrapped over the poor state of the playing surface.

A brand new pitch was unveiled just in time for the 28th Southeast Asian Games, which kicked off in June 2015.

The new surface is now managed by HG Sports Turf which supplies turf to venues such as London's Etihad Stadium and Eden Park in Auckland, as well as events including the 2003 and 2011 Rugby World Cups.

Brendan Morris, operation manager for Super Rugby organisers SANZAR, expressed his confidence that the "world-class facility" will live up to expectations.

Morris told AFP: "I think it has been well documented, the troubles that the pitch has had.

"We've been conscious in the background that a first-class surface will be provided and it's been guaranteed by the Sports Hub."

He added: "The pitch looks in pretty reasonable condition, the big test will be Saturday night, but things look pretty good at the moment."

Ticket sales will be closely watched, as well as the heat and humidity in the city-sized, equatorial state where temperatures top 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) year-round.

However, Morris highlighted the venue's cooling system.

"Player welfare is a major concern in everything we do," he said, adding: "We've got a closed roof, there's climate-control."