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."

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'