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?

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum