New Zealand Maori fixture in Singapore under threat

By Patrick Johnston SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The New Zealand Maori's non-cap rugby test against the invitational Asia Pacific Dragons in Singapore next month is in doubt as the hosts battle to repair a problematic pitch at their new National Stadium. The surface was laid in May but lacked an appropriate bedding period and has been re-seeded four times, staff said on Monday, as they try to cope with the demands of hosting so many different events in a tropical climate. The sandy pitch, with plenty of bare patches, will host Brazil in a football friendly against Asian Cup holders Japan on Tuesday, with organisers of the Southeast Asian football championships voicing concerns about Singapore's ability to part-stage their event in late November-early December. The pitch will be covered, which has caused many of the problems, for Taiwan singer Jay Chou's concert on Nov. 8 but the rugby could be shifted altogether. "The Jay Chou concert we will not be cancelled and for the Maori All Blacks against the Asia Pacific Dragons, we are in discussions with the event promoter now," Sports Hub CEO Jin Teik Oon told reporters on Monday. Asked to confirm if the rugby would go ahead, Oon was vague. "Keeping all options open," he said. The pitch has been a perennial headache for all since the stadium, the centrepiece of Singapore's new $1 billion (620.50 million pounds) Sports Hub, opened this year. The surface was slammed by Italian football champions Juventus in August when they played a friendly against a Singapore selection, with manager Massimiliano Allegri saying he did not select first-choice players Carlos Tevez or Arturo Vidal "to avoid pointless risks because the pitch was bad". LEARNING EXPERIENCE Sports Hub officials said they purchased $1.18 million growth enhancing lights after the Juventus fixture so they could "grow the grass overnight" and strengthen the surface but the equipment only arrived 10 days ago. The Football Association of Singapore said last week the field was "far short of expected international playing standards". "Obviously we are not happy with the aesthetics of the pitch at the moment, its a long way from where I certainly want it to be but it is a learning experience," Gregory Gillin, senior director of Stadium at Sports Hub told reporters. "The other thing to note is that most stadia have six months with nothing on it first before they use the pitch but we don't have that luxury," he said, adding they only had two-and-a-half-weeks after because of a delay in the stadium construction. Gillin, who helped England's Wembley Stadium overcome problems with its surface, said the pitch would be in good stead for the Southeast Asian championships in December and believed the lights were already making a difference. "I'm confident it will be playable," he said. "We can have a good looking playable pitch in four to six weeks. This is (already) a safe playing surface." (Editing by John O'Brien)

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