The Plastic Pitch Debate

allianz park

With Cardiff Blues set to follow in the footsteps of Saracens by introducing an artificial pitch at the Arms Park, is rugby leading the way in the artificial pitch stakes?

Yesterday the Cardiff Blues board agreed to insert the artificial pitch at the Arms Park in time for the new season due to the shocking state of the current turf. Although the alteration still requires the official approval of the WRU all signs point to work starting on the new pitch in early June as the Blues seek to bring the Arms Park into the 21st century.

Whilst the initial cost of £400,000 is a heft initial outlay, the perceived financial benefits make this less of a concern for the club. Not only do the 4G pitches last considerably longer than traditional grass pitches, the £18,000 upkeep per year as opposed to the £85,000 a year for a grass pitch make it an attractive alternative.

At the start of May, Holland admitted that the ground at the Arms Park was not suitable for modern rugby.

“We have Lions backs and world-class youngsters, but they can’t run in mud,” he said.

“We are part of the entertainment industry and we can’t expect fans to pay £15 or £20 or buy a season ticket.”

Personally having seen the atrocious state of the pitch at the Arms Park in mid-January this year when I went down to watch the Blues encounter with Sale Sharks in the Heinken Cup it became apparent something desperately needed to be done. There were giant mud-baths all round the pitch with complete sections of the pitch seemingly lacking any turf at all.

By half time it had become impossible to distinguish one team from another given the mud-brown colours both sides were sporting. Interestingly (for me anyway) the first game on the new pitch is expected to be on 23rd August against Sale Sharks.

Saracens have already successfully introduced a 4G pitch which is receiving rave reviews from the players, with Cardiff Blues having been the first opposition on the new pitch. This should hopefully give the Blues players confidence in the new pitch at their home ground.

The general view coming from Saracens players on the different aspects of the pitch are;

  • The players are able to use their usual boots on the surface (even 80mm forwards boots) although there does seem to be a slight preference for the moulded studs used on firm ground.
  • The surface takes studs like a normal pitch so running isn’t a problem on the surface, in fact as it is more responsive it actually speeds players up slightly.
  • The surface also doesn’t give way as easily as a traditional grass pitch allowing for bigger hits, although players do occasionally come up with bits of plastic stuck to them as opposed to mud.
  • Scrums on the surface are possibly better than on a grass pitch as it is firmer meaning there is less chance of slipping like on muddy turf.

This doesn’t sound too bad from the players perspective although I can hardly imagine one of the Sarries lads coming out and slating the clubs new ground. However there don’t appear to have been any particularly negative reports from opposition players who have spent time on the pitch and the fans seem pretty happy, especially given they can step out onto the pitch at the end of a game as it won’t cut up.

There are also now 14 clubs in the NFL who use a similar type of pitch and although their turf isn’t submitted to the same scrummaging rigours as a rugby pitch there’s still some pretty big guys going hell for leather on them.

One thing is certain and that is that the plastic pitches can’t be any worse than some of the winter mud baths we currently see during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. If the pitches at Allianz Park and Arms Park stand up over the coming season then I can see a number of clubs following in their footsteps.

After all who wouldn’t want to play on a pitch that costs less to maintain and stays dry all year round encouraging free-flowing attacking rugby.

Are you guys in favour of introducing more artificial pitches into the game?

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