MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA // The condition of the pitch for Saturday's Tri Nations match between Australia and New Zealand is causing concern after players from a rival football code threatened to boycott the venue. The Wallabies host the All Blacks at Melbourne's Docklands stadium in their first Tri Nations encounter against each other this year a day after an Australian Rules match is scheduled to be played on the brittle turf.
The Australian Rules players' association described the surface as an "ice-skating rink" and demanded the league's governing body fix it or consider moving games after a number of players slipped during matches last weekend. The Australian Football League, the stadium's major tenant, promised measures to make the surface safer, but Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, said yesterday that little could be done before Saturday's Test.
"We are visiting the stadium [today] and the reality is there's a Test match there at 8pm on Saturday night and I don't think they can do much with the ground between now and eight o'clock on Saturday night," he told reporters. "We're just going to have to do our best with it ... jumping up and down is not going to make a difference." The surface at the stadium, which has a retractable roof, has courted controversy for years but reached fever pitch in recent weeks with a number of Australian Rules players suffering injuries after slipping during matches. "It's a pity that we can't train there, which is disappointing," Henry added. "We'll have a good look at it [today] after training.
"What I've been told is that it's a very short root system. If that's the case it may mean that the grass might roll up underneath the scrums, which would make it difficult." Robbie Deans, the Australia coach, was less concerned about the surface, saying that his Wallaby players would play on asphalt if necessary. "The playing surface will be consistent for both sides," he told reporters. "There's sure to be a lot of players falling over on Saturday night and it will have nothing to do with the surface."