BC Place, in Vancouver, Canada and FMG Stadium Waikato in New Zealand, are two stadiums with fundamental differences in nature. Both sustain the same type of ball sports yet, they each use two dissimilar technologies to groom the playing surface on.
For the sport of rugby union, many have talked about which is better. Artificial turf or natural grass. Man-made product vs the long-established natural grass surface. And as modern science has developed new synthetics and methods of cultivating grasses, the discussion over what is best, has continued across the rugby globe.
In established tier-one rugby union nations like New Zealand, they have stadiums more suited with natural grass compared to northern hemisphere nations. Waikato and grounds across NZ, South Africa and, Australia prefer the natural surface.
However, for tier-two nations like Canada, they depend a lot on artificial turf for rugby union. This is both as a consequence of multi-use sports grounds – with American Football, and Soccer most commonly using astroturf (artificial grass) and so rugby has had to adapt.
This article will look at two rugby stadiums specifically; BC Place in Vancouver and FMG Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
Rugby Chat: artificial turf compared with natural grass
Like many sports around the world, technology has made artificial pitches to closely resemble natural grass. This fact has become the case for BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.
A brief history of BC Place
BC Place was built in 1983 with the intent to host a Major League Baseball team in Vancouver, according to Rob Williams of Offside Vancouver. That dream never materialized, but BC Place is still an important sports stadium in Vancouver. They currently host Vancouver’s Canadian Football and soccer team at BC Place.
Rugby Union is a very popular game in the city of Vancouver and the province of British Columbia (BC). According to Darren Clause of LiveWire Calgary, Vancouver has been one of the rumoured cities for a possible MLR team.
Artificial turf and its popularity in North America
British Columbia and Ontario are the heartlands of the Canadian rugby union. BC Place, in particular, is a stadium suited for rugby union, despite using artificial turf. Bruce Constantineau of the Vancouver Sun explains:
“It’s a very fast surface, which may not be that great for a soccer ball bouncing around,” he said. “But when you’re running on it and playing rugby, it makes for a very attractive game and the weather doesn’t become so much of an issue.”
This new turf would allow Vancouver to host some big matches against top tier-one nations like New Zealand and Australia. BC Place is a special place for the sport of rugby union in Canada.
— NEWS 1130 (@NEWS1130) March 12, 2016
In 2017, BC Place drew more than 29,000 fans per game against New Zealand. This was and remains the highest attended rugby union game in Canada. However, do not expect a natural grass stadium to be built in Vancouver anytime soon.
Whitecaps waterfront stadium
It is a popular game in British Columbia, the province, where Vancouver resides. Unfortunately, there is unlikely to be a large stadium with natural grass in Vancouver. There were plans for Vancouver to have a soccer-specific stadium called the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium.
This coincided with Vancouver being awarded an MLS team in 2009 according to Ian Walker of the Vancouver Sun. This new stadium would also have hosted rugby union games in natural grass.
However, the stadium was not built because of waterfront access and would negatively affect the historical theme of the Gastown area.
— notorious n.e.b (@NebAleksic) June 20, 2014
Despite not having natural grass, BC Place like FMG Stadium Waikato hosts the World Rugby sevens for the men.
World Rugby Sevens Series – Canada 7s
Canada performed well in the men sevens at BC Place this year. Canada finished third winning against South Africa with a score of 26-19 in the third-place game. New Zealand won that tournament by a score of 17-14 against Australia in the final.
British Columbia (BC) also hosts the women’s rugby sevens in Langford, British Columbia, scheduled for September. They play at Westhills Stadium, also home to Pacific FC, a Canadian Premier League (CPL) team.
FMG Stadium Waikato, like BC Place, laid the turf into its stadium. The big difference is that FMG Stadium Waikato used natural turf while BC Place used artificial turf. Also, unlike BC Place, FMG Stadium Waikato hosts both the men and women rugby sevens.
Natural surface at FMG Stadium Waikato
FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand is a sports stadium that uses natural grass to house its sports teams. According to the FMG Stadium Waikato website, the leaf blades live above the top of the synthetic tufts creating a natural green surface.
This includes hosting the New Zealand 7s and the Waikato rugby union team. Most famously they host the Chiefs, a professional rugby union team based in Hamilton since 2002. Ben Slatter explains the importance of FMG Stadium Waikato to Hamiltonians:
“FMG Stadium Waikato is a venue we want all Hamiltonians to be proud of and to experience first-hand for themselves.”
The FMG Stadium is the pride and joy for the people living in Hamilton. The Chiefs are a popular team in Hamilton. They have another big outdoor stadium at Seddon Park. It is home to their cricket league team called the Northern Districts cricket team of the Super Smash League. Lastly, Hamilton has a netball team called the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic at the ANZ Premiership.
The Chiefs, Hamilton’s professional rugby union team, has played three home games this year. Their home opener against the Crusaders had an attendance of 13,611 according to Aaron Goile of Stuff. Their second home game against the Brumbies had a reported attendance of 10,408 people according to Aaron Goile of Stuff. The Crusaders played these games on the new Desso Hybrid Turf used earlier this year.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 6, 2019
Desso Hybrid Turf
These are exciting times for FMG Stadium Waikato. The Desso Hybrid Turf has been laid into FMG Stadium Waikato this year. Karl Johnson explains on Jo Lines-Mackenzie’s Stuff article:
“I am always nervous about a scrum; I hate turf being spat out the back of a scrum so that will be less likely to happen with this system that’s in.”
This new turf was seen in the men and women rugby sevens cup from January 25 to the 26 2020. New Zealand ended up taking the gold medal of both tournaments. In the men’s, New Zealand won 27-5 against France. They also won the final in the women’s rugby sevens cup winning 24-7 against Canada.
This week a Mentay Hydra-Glide will arrive to @fmgstadiumwaikato in New Zealand! Karl Johnson is at the helm for FMG stadium and has spoken to @turfmate about the delivery. https://t.co/sl9wdniOxB #cricket #hamilton pic.twitter.com/ArQp6T7d3j
— Mentay Turf Gear (@MentayTurfGear) March 20, 2020
A big benefit of the new natural turf in New Zealand is to prevent turf disease, which is part of the environment. According to a New Zealand cricket report, it refers to a fungal, bacterial, or viral (pathogen) infestation of the turf plant which results in some level of visible plant injury.
Adding new turf at FMG Stadium Waikato eliminates the possibility of turf disease according to Johnson in a TVNZ news article. “We’ve been able to mow the grounds, check for disease, which we’ve had over the last couple of weeks,” Johnson said.
After Easter weekend, New Zealand has lifted restrictions on lockdown due to coronavirus. The groundsmen are allowed to work one day per week to work on basic maintenance. This includes iconic stadiums in New Zealand and Hamilton like FMG Waikato Stadium according to a TVNZ news article.
FMG Waikato Stadium is a stadium with natural grass. However, it needs to be replaced in order to avoid turf diseases in New Zealand. There are many types of turfgrass disease. This includes wear, which was a big reason why the turfgrass turf was replaced at FMG Waikato Stadium. Others include drought, nutrient deficiencies, plant injury, and poor soil conditions.
Overview of BC Place vs. FMG Waikato Stadium
Both stadiums are world-class stadiums by many metrics. These stadiums are tourist attractions that many people visit every single year. BC Place is a well-known stadium in Canada. This is while FMG Waikato Stadium hosts rugby union teams including their professional sports team, the Chiefs.
For BC Place, artificial turf is needed for Vancouver to host big outdoor sporting events. In New Zealand, they use natural grass, but as mentioned before it has problems with weather conditions. Both stadiums hold a special place for rugby union in their respective countries.
Overall, both stadiums are instrumental to international rugby. They are both instrumental for growing the game of rugby sevens and rugby union.
It is also important to note that ruling out artificial pitches altogether will prevent the game from growing. For example, in rugby union, Major League Rugby in North America plays in an artificial pitch in Toronto and in baseball parks like New York City.
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