AFTER waging a turf war against a worm infestation that has been wreaking havoc on the pitch at the home of Scottish rugby, officials have decided it is time to cut their losses.
The Scottish Rugby Union is to install a hybrid playing surface at Murrayfield at a cost estimated to be about £1.25 million.
The new pitch, in which artificial fibres are injected into the top layer of soil to help anchor the natural grass, will be the governing body's biggest single capital investment since the national stadium was reconstructed 20 years ago.
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The replacement surface, Desso Grassmaster, is a natural sports grass pitch reinforced by millions of artificial turf fibres. It is said to have a faster recovery than pure grass, allowing stadia to host more than 40 fixtures in a season.
It is the same type that has been installed at Twickenham, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and Newlands in Cape Town. The Welsh Rugby Union also recently confirmed plans to install a hybrid pitch at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
In football, similar pitches are in use at the San Siro Stadium, Milan; Anfield, Liverpool; Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford, Manchester; Emirates Stadium, London; and Wembley.
Installation work for the hybrid surface is expected to begin at the end of the current PRO12 campaign, with the new pitch ready for use at the start of next season.
Mark Laidlaw, Scottish Rugby's director of management services, said: "We are doing this primarily because this hybrid pitch is widely recognised as the best grass surface in the sporting world and we all want to see the Murrayfield playing surface restored to the pristine condition for which it is renowned.
"This results in a high-specification pitch providing the feel and performance of natural grass with the stability of an artificial pitch."
The miniscule worms first became evident at the start of the season, causing problems on the grass by burrowing into its roots.
The worms - a different species to those that attack slugs and leather jackets - are frustratingly resilient but hate garlic so ground staff had previously taken to spraying a solution of the food produce over the surface. While staff had expressed satisfaction about the progress they had made towards eradicating the nematode worms, it was confirmed recently that Edinburgh's scheduled clash with Ospreys on February 28 would have to be moved to another venue to protect the surface for Scotland's meeting with France the following weekend. Some youth and schools games have also had to be moved.
Mr Laidlaw added: "We are making this significant investment because we are concerned at the problems our pitch and others within the UK and beyond have experienced of late. We feel a reinforced surface is now required to meet the demands of professional rugby.
"We have been affected by a parasitic infection this season and the challenges of keeping Murrayfield accessible in probably the most challenging rugby climate in the northern hemisphere."