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Rebels, ARU issue AAMI Park Super Rugby ultimatum

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Melbourne’s Rebels and the Australian Rugby Union have given AAMI Park until the weekend to prove that their shoddy playing surface has been fixed or else.

The Rebels have struggled their way through the Super Rugby season with the problematic pitch which led to the resurfacing of parts of the pitch for last week’s Test between Australia and England.

Despite the repairs the pitch quickly tore up in last week’s Test and there are again fears that a player could suffer “career-ending injury” by playing on the surface.

As a result the Melbourne Olympic Park Trust (MOPT) has been put on notice by Rebels and ARU officials that the Super Rugby franchise will not play their next home game at the venue.

The Rebels next home game is against the Stormers at the venue on Saturday July 2 and they have made it clear they do not want a repeat of the surface ripping up and exposing sandy holes a player could trip on.

Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver slammed the MOPT earlier this week after he was given assurances that the surface would not give problems in the Test and that it would be in good shape.

“The immediate issue is the safety and welfare around playing on that surface in ten days time, based on what was evident on Saturday night,” ARU general manager Rob Clarke¬†told the Daily Telegraph.

“It is positive to see both MOPT and the Victorian government are as concerned about it as we are. They have appointed an independent turf expert to conduct testing and analysis on the solutions they want to put in place. That is looking at a variety of turf technologies to overcome the immediate challenges.

“We just simply cannot compromise the safety of our players who could suffer a career-ending injury based on what was evidenced on Saturday night.”

MOPT replaced 40 per cent of the surface for last week’s test and these areas held up well which leaves them little option but to replace the rest of the surface or to do a full field replacement.

ARU Boss Clarke said that they would be prepared to call in players to scrum on the surface and give it a proper test.

“If they put down a new surface ultimately we can always pack scrums on it and see. That’s the ultimate test,” Clarke said.

While Clarke did not mention an alternative venue for the July 2nd match he did say that they would want to stay “in the Melbourne vicinity, given it is a Rebels home game”.

“The logistics of moving at such late notice are challenging to say the least,” Clarke said.

“We would be looking at alternative venues within the Melbourne area, and those discussions are in the hands of the MOPT and other venues who I don’t want to articulate at this point in time.”

Moving the game – potentially to the Etihad Stadium – would no doubt cost the MOPT a small fortune for hiring the alternative venue and other costs as well as possible compensation to the Rebels for lost gate and corporate revenue.

“All of that is captured in the venue hire agreement between the Rebels and the MOPT. There are pretty clear responsibilities and accountabilities outlined in that agreement,” Clarke said.

Clarke said that he believes the backlash to the embarrassing scenes in last week’s Test coupled with the threat of losing future Test matches appear to have hit home with MOPT.

“From my many discussions with them today, they know the seriousness of the situation,” Clarke said.

“They are showing the right amount of commitment, I think, to try and resolve it. They are very well aware of the reputational damage that sits in and around these issues.

“They have reassured us that they will be looking at the latest technology in the world to see how they can make sure this doesn’t happen again, and they have a surface they can withstand all the use it currently gets.”

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