Star rugby player sidelined by infected graze from Masterton's new artificial pitch

South Canterbury's Rupeni Cokanasiga, right, battles for the ball in a Heartland match against West Coast earlier this ...
FAIRFAX NZ

South Canterbury's Rupeni Cokanasiga, right, battles for the ball in a Heartland match against West Coast earlier this year. He is in doubt for his side's next game after a graze suffered on Masterton's artificial pitch became infected.

A new artificial turf at Masterton's Trust House Memorial Park has sidelined a star rugby player.

In-form South Canterbury winger Rupeni Cokanasiga looks likely to miss his team's next match with a large, infected graze after a Heartland competition game last weekend against Wairarapa-Bush.

South Canterbury manager Cedric Coll questioned whether germs on the pitch, installed as part of a $2.1 million upgrade at the park this season, were to blame.

Black shock-absorption material flies up from the new artificial pitch at Masterton's Memorial Park as Wairarapa-Bush ...
WALT DICKSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Black shock-absorption material flies up from the new artificial pitch at Masterton's Memorial Park as Wairarapa-Bush player Chris Raymond tackles North Otago's Ben Palmer in one of the Heartland rugby matches this season which have left players nursing infected grazes.

"It's a magnificent-looking venue, but if you're going to be pulling two or three players out after each game it's not worth the risk."

Cokanasiga applied Vaseline to his knees and elbows before the game, cleaned his wound afterwards with antibacterial soap, and treated it with iodine.

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But despite the precautions, at Tuesday's training he and two team-mates had developed painful infections.

Cokanasiga was put on antibiotics for the infected graze, which measured 15 centimetres by five.

"You could almost fry an egg on it, it was so hot," Coll said.

The Fijian, who scored his third try of the season in Masterton, was in doubt for Saturday's game as a result.

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Wairarapa-Bush coach Josh Syms said the issue would probably resolve itself as the new surface settled down and players got used to dealing with grazes.

"People spit on rugby fields, and people bleed and people sweat – so all that infectious material goes on it."

That material would be eliminated through rain and grass-cutting in a way that didn't happen on "plastic" pitches, he said.

South Canterbury coach Barry Matthews said the issue needed to be dealt with.

"I think they need to do something because teams just won't want to play on it ... it looked really clean, but if they're getting infected quite quickly it must be dirty."

North Otago also had a player miss a game with an infected graze after playing in Masterton, team manager Duncan Kingan said.

Wairarapa-Bush chief executive Tony Hargood, who led the ground upgrade, said the pitch was groomed and aerated to effectively disinfect it two weeks after it was opened, in April, and would undergo the process again on Monday and again by year's end. 

Three cleans a year was in keeping with the manufacturer's instructions, and were more than most artificial pitch managers did, he said.

The pitch, and the cleaning regime, had been tested and certified as safe by the International Rugby Board and would be reviewed by it every two years.

He had had no complaints from junior rugby or Wairarapa United football, which also used the ground, and only a few from senior rugby players, which was good considering around 10,000 people had played or trained on the pitch in its first five months.

CLEAN, GREEN AND PLASTIC

Auckland sports medicine physician and medical director of New Zealand Football Mark Fulcher said international research had consistently shown football players were no more at risk of injuries, including grazes and infections, on artificial turf than on grass.

Rugby players might have a slightly higher risk of grazes, and that could be the cause of any increase in infections following Wairarapa-Bush games. "If you're getting more abrasions you'll be getting more infections."

But artificial turf was not in itself any less sterile than grass because bugs could not survive well outside the human body, whatever the surface.

A Wairarapa-Bush player who did not want to be named said he and other players were unhappy about getting infected grazes on the pitch, despite practising good wound care, and called for it to be cleaned more often.

 - Stuff

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