Farewell to mud at artificially enhanced Saracens
Saracens are one month away from introducing the first non-grass pitch to professional rugby union. Saracens' players will use the artificial pitch at the club's new home in the refurbished Copthall Stadium in Mill Hill, north London, for the first time in training this week.
Assuming a successful pass-mark against the International Rugby Board performance standard, it will undergo tests in front of restricted crowds in January: a schools match between Mill Hill and Merchant Taylors', and Saracens' LV Cup game against Cardiff Blues.
The newly named Allianz Park will then play a big part in the Premiership run-in as Saracens host Exeter, London Welsh, Harlequins, Worcester and Bath on it – but it will not be used for any European quarter-final, as the 10,000 capacity is too low. The bespoke, rugby-specific surface has 65mm-long blades of soft, synthetic turf with hundreds of tonnes of sand and rubber-crumb infill, and is different to surfaces that in some academic studies have been associated with an increased risk of joint injuries.
Among the positive effects, Saracens claim there will be fewer reset scrums, and the game will be faster. In tests conducted by Fifa in football, artificial surfaces were shown to allow quicker straight-line sprinting than grass.
It has cost almost £500,000 and will need to be replaced after eight years, but the upkeep is a fraction of that of a grass surface, and it can be used all year round. Its use was passed by Premiership Rugby in January 2011 despite objections, it is understood, from Exeter.
Saracens say Harlequins are keeping a close eye on the surface's progress. Quins' director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, said: "That may be something our chief executive and groundspeople have consulted on, but it's not something I've been made aware of. I like our pitch [at The Stoop] the way it is, I like the old surface. But you don't know how technology will take it on.
"It's not trail-blazing. There is an artificial pitch at Maidenhead Rugby Club and one in Newcastle. It's just new to the Premiership.
"There's the ability to take the wear and tear. I live close to Maidenhead and they have hundreds of people on the pitch, match after match, with no wear. That can only be a positive."
So is grass no longer intrinsic to rugby? "Anything that can make sure that games take place in the winter is good," said O'Shea. "I think there is a natural, inbuilt fear which is unfounded but is there in terms of a different surface. You're used to playing and training 51 weeks a year on grass, and you go to a different one. It's like going in tennis from hard court to grass. Different surface, same game.
"We'll look to train on a similar surface before we play on it in March. The way the ball bounces and skids will be slightly different, not hugely. I am sure there will be some elements of home advantage to it, like any ground."
elephant appealPrince William signs up for our charity appeal
elephant appealSo says man jailed for cutting off dead elephant's tusks
booksWe examine the best titles for teens
scienceResearchers teach border collie to understand sentences using more than 1,000 words
booksA Christmas story in six parts
travelWill high-value tourism help the workshops of this Renaissance city?
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Liverpool 3 Cardiff City 1 match report: Luis Suarez leaves Malky Mackay with nothing but pride
The worst owner in football? Vincent Tan faces fan backlash as Malky Mackay clings to Cardiff job
Spurs don't want Glenn Hoddle as their new manager
Ashes 2013-14: England spinner Graeme Swann issues apology for his 'crass and thoughtless' comments comparing defeat in Perth to rape
Arsène Wenger: Now is the time to finally beat Jose Mourinho
- 1 Top PR exec Justine Sacco under fire for sending racist tweet before flying to Africa
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 The publisher who played with fire: the battle for control of Larsson's £30m legacy
- 5 Police seize possessions of rough sleepers in crackdown on homelessness