NZ Rugby Union cancels match in Singapore due to pitch issues

WELLINGTON - The maligned pitch at Singapore's new National Stadium has forced the cancellation of next month's Maori All Blacks clash with the invitational Asia-Pacific Barbarians, which could have ramifications for the team's Super Rugby bid.

The Maori All Blacks were scheduled to play the Tana Umaga-coached side at the stadium, the centrepiece of a US$1 billion (S$1.27 billion) Sports Hub, on Nov 15 after two matches in Japan.

The New Zealand Rugby Union, however, said on Tuesday the match had been cancelled due to the poor quality of the pitch that has drawn numerous complaints from sporting teams.

"We feel somewhat let down that this has happened at this late stage," NZRU general manager planning and operations Nigel Cass said in a statement on Tuesday.

"However, the safety of our players is paramount and we were unable to get the assurances we needed that the pitch was playable."

The cancellation of the match could have ramifications for the ambitious plans of the owners of the Asia-Pacific Barbarians, who are one of two bidders for the 18th Super Rugby licence when the competition expands in 2016 and had hoped to base a team out of the Singapore stadium.

Southern hemisphere rugby's governing body SANZAR had said the Singapore bid and another from Japan had been confirmed as the two finalists for the expanded competition as it looks to grow the game in the potentially lucrative Asian market.

The surface at the Singapore stadium, which was laid in May and has failed to bed down, was slammed by Italian football champions Juventus in August when they played a friendly against a Singapore side, while it came under heavy criticism last week following Brazil's 4-0 international friendly victory over Japan.

Asian football officials are also considering moving matches from next month's Suzuki Cup from the stadium.

A decision on whether the matches for the Nov. 22-Dec. 20 Southeast Asian championship will be moved to co-hosts Vietnam or to a smaller venue in Singapore is expected this week.