Could there be an argument for beginning the transition of all major rugby grounds over to artificial 4G pitches?
It may seem like a farfetched idea at this stage, but there is certainly an argument in favour of having pitches that hold up in all weather, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Given that most pitches are hybrid’s theses days anyway it wouldn’t mean a huge change for most sides.
The argument for the installation of such pitches was perfectly demonstrated during this weekends action when the difference between artificial turf and standard grass pitches was evident. Northampton Saints slog fest at home to Exeter Chiefs showed how particularly during the winter months, traditional turf can struggle to hold up to the rigours of top flight rugby.
In contrast, the Cardiff Arms Park played host to a fantastic spectacle between Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets that saw plenty of running rugby from both sides. Elsewhere, Saracens hosted Leicester and proved the value of their artificial pitch by demolishing the Tigers scrum as the pitch held up in appalling conditions.
Given that the game has become blighted by issues scrum reset issues, often caused by soggy pitches chewing up under boots, surely it makes sense to implement pitches that do not suffer from such issues? They obviously cannot compensate for slippy balls, however anything that can be done to help keep the game flowing is surely a bonus?
You only have to look at the improvement in Newcastle Falcons play at Kingston Park to see how a 4G pitch can be to the benefit of both players and fans. Newcastle are now able to play the kind of rugby they want to, whilst fans are treated to a much more entertaining spectacle as teams feel more comfortable running the ball rather than engaging in a battle of aerial ping pong with the boot.
You only have to think back to Murrayfield a couple of years ago when the pitch suffered a worm infestation to see just how quickly conditions can become appalling for top class rugby. Whilst there is some appeal in a traditional slog fest up front in the mud, if rugby is to attract new fans into the sport, more emphasis should be placed on encouraging teams to play a more expansive game.
Given there still seems to be major opposition to the idea of summer rugby in the Northern Hemisphere, artificial pitches could be the next best option to avoid games essentially being washed out as players are unable to find grip underfoot.