Australian Rugby Union chief Bill Pulver has slammed the unstable playing surface at AAMI Park as below Test standard and threatened to tear up an agreement to play another match there next year if it doesn’t improve.
In a major embarrassment for the ARU, and despite assurances from ground staff, the turf consistently tore up under the weight of scrums during England’s 23-7 victory over the Wallabies on Saturday night.
Pulver said the ARU had expressed its “extreme disappointment” to the Melbourne and Olympic Trust, which runs the venue, and has failed to repair the surface despite similar issues during every Super Rugby match held this year.
Pulver also revealed the ARU has an existing contract in place with AAMI Park to host a Test in 2017 but said it would be revisited if there is no satisfactory progress in the coming months.
“The venue is obligated to provide a playing surface which is safe for the playing of international rugby and clearly this was not delivered upon last night,” Pulver said in a statement on Sunday.
“While we haven’t yet announced the fixture … prior to making any decision about 2017, the stadium must put specific measures in place, including an independent turf expert providing regular reports back to the ARU.
“I have suggested previously that the stadium should investigate a hybrid playing surface, similar to the one used at Twickenham, which is 90 per cent grass and 10 per cent synthetic and stood up superbly to the rigours of the Rugby World Cup.
“AAMI Park must investigate all technology available to improve the surface. If (not) we’ll need to revisit our agreement with them for 2017.”
The ARU chose to stage the match at the boutique AAMI Park – instead of the adjacent MCG, which was vacant – to ensure spectators were closer to the action.
The atmosphere was indeed electric and a new ground record crowd of 29,871 was set, but the situation put players at risk of injury – fortunately none were hurt.
Referee Craig Joubert offered his sympathy to players but told them: “It is what it is.”
Both the venue and the ARU were openly mocked on social media during the match, with large divots scattered across the field by full-time.