Photo by Justin Purdy
Exciting things are unfolding at Infinity Park this fall, as America’s premier rugby venue recently installed a new, state-of-the-art turf playing surface ahead of welcoming the top women’s rugby sevens teams on the planet for an Olympic-qualifying tournament, in addition to ushering in a second season of professional men’s play in Major League Rugby. Though tournament competition was held on Infinity Park’s natural grass pitch, the new turf saw plenty of practice action over the weekend tournament, and will serve as the battleground for amateur and divisional play for many years to come.
The sole U.S. venue for the HSBC World Rugby Women’s 7s Tournament Series in 2018-2019, the installation of the new turf at Infinity Park was completed just days before the October competition kicked off. An important part of the route to qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, the USA Women’s Sevens tournament represents the highest level of competition on the globe. The reemergence of rugby sevens in the 2016 Rio Olympics massively impacted interest in the sport, earning tens of millions of fans as sevens action received Olympic glory for the first time in nearly a century. The HSBC tournament has enjoyed a massive increase in viewership in just the last twelve months, with millions of broadcast and social media views and triple-digit percentage growth in overall audience. Twelve international teams competed in the October tournament, co-hosted by Glendale and USA Rugby, including the United States, Russia, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Ireland, Canada, Fiji, China, and a 2018-19 invitational side from Mexico. Alongside the Olympic qualifying competition was a Saturday beer festival, featuring dozens of local Colorado breweries, cider makers, and distillers. Championship rounds took place October 21, and served as the first hints at which international teams will represent their countries at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Ahead of the competition, and with the assistance of a sizeable grant from Arapahoe County, Glendale installed a new turf playing surface. Including the latest player-safety technology, Infinity Park’s new turf field meets World Rugby regulation 22, which not only requires laboratory, manufacturer, and on-site testing, but also allows competition to take place from the local to international level with the full confidence that the preservation of participant welfare won’t be a concern. A top priority for the premier rugby governing body on the planet, as well as the coaching and training staff at Infinity Park, the new surface adheres to the highest standards of competition and safety.
More dependably useful for all levels of play, the material installed in October is better at preventing injury because it is softer, deeper, and more technologically advanced than the original Infinity Park turf it replaces, employing a unique and proprietary Desso iDNA X 60 artificial grass with a Pro-Play drainage shock pad. The Desso system, one of the first installed at a rugby-specific facility in the United States, uses what the company calls a three-dimensional resilience system, meaning that that the synthetic grass will long retain its shape and will improve in quality through intensive use. The fibers are light reflective, delivering the much more natural appearance of lush green grass when compared to other synthetic turf. Josh Bertrand, veteran Supervisor of Glendale’s Public Works Department, overseer of installation, and a consummate wealth of knowledge on all things related to Infinity Park, says that in addition to meeting World Rugby regulations, added safety is the most important feature of the new field: “This surface will play better and last longer. It will give additional peace of mind to parents and active youth that use Infinity Park, while also protecting our divisional and professional athletes from injury.” The Pro-Play pad uses thermal bonded, cross-linked polyethylene foam that combines exceptional fall protection and drainage properties. The same product is used by international sporting federations that include field hockey, soccer, and Gaelic and American football, among others. World Rugby field regulations are stringent, and stipulate that high-impact contacts with the turf – like some of the “flying tackles” that make rugby so exciting for fans – are more easily absorbed. Glendale’s brand new, bright green surface will be safely absorbing player contact for years.
Co-hosted by Glendale and USA Rugby, October’s Women’s Sevens tournament brought the number of 2018-2019 tournament rounds to six, providing increased competition and promising more opportunity on the road to Tokyo in the summer of 2020. The HSBC USA Women’s Sevens Tournament at Infinity Park preceded other international stops on the tour, but once again demonstrated that Infinity Park remains the epicenter of American rugby at every level. With future stops at a total of six locations worldwide, including the U.S., Dubai, Australia, Japan, Canada, and France, it seems that the grass, real or synthetic, might actually be greener in Glendale.