With rugby participation growing in the United States, spurred greatly by the return of the sport to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Sportsfield Specialties Inc. (SSI) is increasingly being asked for rugby equipment that can meet the needs of multi-sport playing fields. Of special note are customized solutions SSI created for Avaya Stadium, the new European-styled home of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, and Hendricken Field at Providence College.
Well before field construction was scheduled to begin at Avaya Stadium in the summer of 2014 both the design firm of Verde Design Inc. and field contractor Robert A. Bothman Inc. had more than soccer to consider. The reason was that two matches of the Pacific Nations Cup international rugby tournament had already been scheduled to be contested at Avaya in July 2015.
Since the matches would occur during the heart of the Earthquake’s inaugural regular season home schedule, the master plan for having the facility rugby-ready at the opening would have to be implemented during the field construction phase. With that in mind, Verde contacted David Cloud, Western Regional Manager for SSI to discuss equipment needs and a customized solution that would provide a safe and efficient means of installing and removing the rugby goal posts without disturbing the grass playing surface.
Central to the SSI plan advanced by Cloud was an in-ground mounting system that would feature customized ground sleeves and footings along with custom-cut goal posts to ensure proper above-field dimensions. After SSI’s model GR4944 rugby goal posts with 44’ high uprights had been specified by Verde for the project, it was up to contractor Bothman to execute the plan.
In August 2014, Bothman and crew installed four 5’ ground sleeves (two at each goal post location) which were set at 9” below grade. SSI had previously designed stamped footings which would accommodate the shorter sleeves and cut the upright posts 3” to ensure the correct height at the time of installation. The design enabled the capping of the sleeves when the rugby posts were not in use so that the soccer field sub-grade could be filled over with dirt and sod and then leveled to the surface of the playing field.
After the sleeves were installed the below-ground and above-ground components did not come together again until December 2014 when Bothman and crew demonstrated complete assembly, installation and removal for the Avaya facilities staff.
Avaya stadium officially opened for business on Feb. 27, 2015. The Earthquakes then welcomed a capacity crowd of over 18,000 fans for their home opener March 22 with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire as their fan-friendly stadium drew rave reviews. After the Quakes home game on July 14, the changeover for the Pacific Nations Cup, including the installation of the rugby posts, took place as the stadium was made ready for the single-day doubleheader featuring Canada vs. Japan and the U.S. vs. Samoa.
At Providence College, SSI’s rugby goal post innovation grew from an inquiry made by John Amato of JJA Sports whose firm was hired by the college to upgrade Hendricken Field where no less than three other sports besides rugby are played. The challenge for rugby on a multi-sport field like Hendricken is that the goal posts can only by up for competition and then must be taken down and removed following every match. As such the posts must be installed and removed with great frequency. Easing and simplifying the process became the shared goal for Amato and SSI.
After initially considering SSI’s standard hinged rugby posts, thoughts turned to creating lighter posts that would reduce the time and effort involved in installation and removal. Amato asked about the possibility of using carbon fiber for the posts and SSI advanced it from idea to finished product.
For SSI, the customization process included sourcing the carbon fiber material, ensuring that it would securely connect with the aluminum lower framework, and finding a proper painting technique since SSI’s powder coating process would not work on carbon fiber material. SSI accomplished the latter by enlisting the services of an auto body shop.
The rugby goals ultimately made by SSI consist of 10’ carbon fiber sections that top off each of the four uprights (total height is 30’) by stubbing into the upright portion of the aluminum goal framework below it. Underground is a mounting plate with a piano-style hinge that when pinned to the plate and mating hinge at the bottom of each upright creates the pivot point for the entire goal to be raised and lowered.
With significantly less weight (than aluminum) near the highest point of the uprights, the overall weight of the entire goal is reduced exponentially. After assembly the entire goal is light enough to tip upward from a resting position on the ground by hand by just one person on each side. After successfully reducing time and effort from the installation and removal process, SSI went a step further by designing and manufacturing custom carts. Thanks to the carts, the goals can be folded down, laid into the carts, unpinned at the hinges, and easily pushed off the field for storage.
The growth in rugby sales at SSI is reflected in this partial listing of college and club teams that have SSI rugby goals at their fields: University of California at Berkeley, Ohio State University, Army West Point, UCLA, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Wheeling (WVA) Jesuit, Colgate University, Hamilton College, University of Illinois, SUNY-Stony Brook, and the New York Athletic Club.
Also, since 2011, all new MLS stadiums including those for Sporting Kansas City, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Houston Dynamo and the previously noted San Jose Earthquakes have been outfitted with SSI rugby goals.
In 2009, the International Olympic Committee voted overwhelmingly to return rugby to the schedule of the Summer Olympics in 2016 this time in the form of the faster and more high-scoring seven-a side version. Both the U. S. men’s and women’s teams have already qualified as each won their respective finals in the North American & Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) Olympic qualifying tournament in June 2015. Twelve men’s and women’s teams will compete in Rio de Janeiro.