David Flatman: Benefits of artificial pitches are about as clear as mud

From the Front Row: Clement Poitrenaud said: 'This place is impossible.' I thought: 'We've got you'

I like mud. Always have. I will admit that when my father first took me down to Maidstone RFC and told me to get stuck in, I was less than keen to soil my shiny new Mitre boots, not to mention my expertly coiffed, Shakin' Stevens-style mop. But I did as I was told, piled in and never looked back.

I think it might actually have been the post-training bath that convinced me this was the game for me; as the mud, grime and blood (I caught a boot in the eye, day one) left my kneecaps and elbows and made the bath a wallow, I felt a sense of achievement. I was sore and filthy, but I had earned this bath.

As I consider the memories the game has given me, I realise that, perhaps unsurprisingly, almost all of them involve mud. Those hot, sunny, firm-footed days did not necessarily suit my style of play. I preferred to collide and grapple, not run and chase. I recall a 3-3 draw with French giants Toulouse at the Rec and I regard it as one of the greatest days of my life.

We went to war in what can only be described as a quagmire – rain hammering down, the River Avon seemingly intent on joining us. At half-time Clement Poitrenaud said: "This place is terrible. Impossible." I thought: "We've got you, you won't beat us tonight."

I think of Friday nights at Sale when the pitch was, by any sensible standards, unplayable. Changing whole strips at half-time is common, doing so between warm-up and kick-off is not. We arrived at Stockport a few years ago and fully expected the officials to cancel the game as the pitch was completely under water and no lines were visible. Then I saw Mark Cueto. "Let's get this done, kid," he said. We did. It was brutal, but also beautiful in a British sort of way.

This is why I find myself saddened by the news that Premiership matches might soon be played on artificial pitches. Saracens seem to be leading the way and are keen to build one at their new stadium in Barnet, and I admire their ambition. There are tangible benefits to artificial surfaces, including much-reduced maintenance costs compared to grass pitches. Another benefit, depending both on perspective and on whether other clubs follow suit, is that conditions underfoot would never again have to be considered.

Goal-kickers will rejoice at the end of the nightmare of a disappearing planting foot. The fact that openside flankers would have more energy to hunt might temper their ebullience, however. Wingers will be kicking up their heels in anticipation of the skinnings they plan to administer against hard-scrumming props who won't have seen speed like it. But again, all that slugging through the mud that once heavied the legs of the gorillas will die. They will be knackered, of course, but their increase in agility and repeated speed will be proportionately identical to those out wide.

The overall aim seems to be to make our game more like that of the Southern Hemisphere. I am all for innovation but I am just not convinced that the British public really wants that outcome. In offering a looser, supposedly more expansive game, are we selling something that folk don't actually want?

Supporters will still sit in the dark, getting hammered by the British winter and they will still be freezing cold. I just think the average rugby punter loves the odd war in the mud. They go through a version of the ringer when they attend matches in horrid conditions, and seem to admire players for doing the same in their honour.

We will gain traction underfoot, consistency and points for forward thinking. But we will lose the likes of Charlie Hodgson ruining teams with a kicking and tactical game that relies on an intimate knowledge of a rugby pitch.

The memories of Hodgson or Jonny Wilkinson destroying us single-handedly by bringing to life the nuances of the grass fields they called home will haunt me forever, and I would not change one of them. That is part of their magic, but they might not need those skills much longer, should other big guns join the artificial party.

There won't be any lumps or bumps, soggy patches or any corners of death in their secret tactical armoury. And baths wouldn't be muddy anymore. Who wants a clean bath?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform