Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saracens all set for Allianz Park debut on new artificial pitch

Saracens will make their Allianz Park debut today as their ground breaking new artificial pitch will be put to the test in the LV Cup (Anglo-Welsh) encounter with Cardiff Blues. The synthetic surface is the first of it's kind for a professional rugby team.

The new pitch, which by all accounts looks, feels, and plays like grass, contains a rubberised shock-pad that is there to ensure player safety, complying with the required head impact criteria.

The turf on top of that replicates grassy conditions with one exception - there will be no mud.

Saracens are hoping that if all goes well, they will be able to increase their new stadium's capacity to 15 000 for their Heineken Cup quarter-final meeting with Ulster in April. If they aren't granted permission, they will have to look elsewhere.

For now though all focus is on the new pitch, which will have a lifespan of up to eight years.

"Chief executives at South African provinces, who you’d think are the most conservative people in rugby, are looking at ways of addressing the huge maintenance costs of their pitches," explained Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths.

"They've had an hour and a half-long discussion at board level about installing artificial turf at a Test venue, but said they would see what happens at Saracens first.

"Literally, the world of rugby from New Zealand to South Africa, from Wales to Murrayfield, is looking to see how this pitch plays and runs.

"All our evidence so far is that it will play magnificently well. Our expectation is that between three and five years the majority of rugby pitches will be artificial," he added.

Time: 03:01
Credit: BBC and iconfusedproductions

Posted by Rugbydump at 10:31 am | View Comments (32)

Posted in See it to Believe it

Viewing 32 comments

Zaaaaak January 27, 2013 1:55 pm

What's rugby without mud? ...

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CambridgeshireKid January 27, 2013 2:17 pm

that is not right on so many levels. I once played football on a third generation astro pitch, I did a slide tackle and it burnt a hole in my trakkies, nasty stuff.

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CTPE January 27, 2013 3:07 pm

Played on one of these rubber crumps for years, great for all weather but not sure i'd want to play week after week without trakkies... skin on the knees won't be thanking them.

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Richy January 27, 2013 5:10 pm

@ cambridgeshirekid this is specially made for rugby the grass is longer than the football pitches so you wont get those burnt holes.

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DrG January 28, 2013 4:09 am

burnt holes lol, who's talking about curry?

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Ottawa Rugger January 27, 2013 5:50 pm

We have that same surface on our pitch at the University. It is great because it requires so little maintenance. It's even, it's strong so it doesn't slide away, and it is actually quite soft so getting tackled doesn't hurt so bad. But those rubber bits get EVERYWHERE. @Richy you're right about it not being the "grass" that'll give you burns, but in my experience the rubber bits do still burn quite a bit if you slide over them.

That said I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The pitch here was installed maybe 3 or 4 years ago so maybe this is newer stuff that has taken this problem into account. Who knows.

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Nick January 27, 2013 5:59 pm

glad to announce that we get this sort of artificial grass pitch on our non proffesional club!

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Nate R January 27, 2013 7:08 pm

Played college football on this surface and some rugby. It's good. It is not AstroTurf, so please don't associate it with that monstrosity. Played on AstroTurf also, it was nasty. This new artificial grass is good stuff.

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cheyanqui January 28, 2013 1:50 am

Agreed that this stuff bears little resemblance to AstroTurf.

It was called that because it was installed into the Houston Astrodome -- back in 1966.

Artificial grass has come a long way from the visible seams (and blown knees) at the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

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Tom January 27, 2013 8:05 pm

I've played on this with plastic, non-astro turf boots and turned my ankle, out for a month. If you don't wear the right footwear there is very little give on your feet.

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browner January 27, 2013 8:30 pm

This will be disaster.

Here are my predictions:
Saracens will develop an impressive 'unbeatable at home record - Until the injuries caused by constant 'lack of give in the ground' mount up.

These are great surfaces for training, or playing conditioned / controlled impact games on, but NOT for high speed high intensity high impact fixtures.

Yes the whole world is watching, I've see the ripped knees/elbows/cheekbones/wrists/shoulders/thighs of rugby players that have trained at 'full speed' and it's not a pretty sight.

Artificial 4G pitches are not the answer, much better a hybrid mixture of grass mud & shock absorbing materials and sophisticated drainage systems are THE better alternative.

This is seen as a cash saving lower upkeep option , but they should be investing in drainage/undersoil heating technology. Ask yourself this....when was the last premiership football match cancelled because of bad weather?

But those fantastic surfaces COST....... this isn't a good development.

Boooooooo RFU

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browner January 27, 2013 8:44 pm

Just watched the video again........... the previously confident delivery of the interviewed Saracen official changes into a stuttering stumbling delivery when the subject of injuries is raised....

Why the change?, because he knows - thats why !
Watch his body language he's uncomfortable telling porkies .... get some body language experts to forensically analyse his performance & they'll all tell you the same ......

tut tut tut ...... transparent to anyone who's seen liars in action

the body language of the saracens representative

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Tc January 27, 2013 10:32 pm

I have a few queries about it

Firstly what special footwear is needed - does it take a stud?
How good is it for scrummaging?
How will it feel getting your face squashed it it?

I envisage players starting to wear tights. Prepared to be convinced

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manley66 January 27, 2013 10:33 pm

Here in the States, we have been forced to play on "plastic pitches" for years. The technology continues to improve.

The real test is not what the fans think, it is really all about the players. If the players enjoy it then it will stay.

My players prefer to play on a good turf field and it has a lot to do with how fast you can move/cut. It really does speed up the game.

I too love mud as much as the next guy and the rubber pellets are a pain, but the future beckons.

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cheyanqui January 28, 2013 1:54 am

Thanks Richy -- I was wondering what the commentator meant when she said "specific for rugby".

We use the artificial stuff quite a bit in the USA, and needless to say, the biggest complaints are as follows:

friction abrasions from the turf
joint pain

The biggest benefit is not just upkeep costs, but in terms of field utilization -- most areas in the USA have limited field space, and any field that is built is likely to be used all day.

There is little tolerance for leaving fields closed after a heavy rain, much less leaving a field fallow for an entire year (or season) in order for the land to recuperate. What ends up happening is that a field gets overused, and then the grass disappears, and you get tufts of grass interspersed with dirt pock marks. These tufts of grass then become hazards for people's ankles.

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turf runner January 28, 2013 2:54 am

This surface will be difficult in the summer or anywhere it gets above 24 C / 75 F. these fields do not dissipate heat well. This might not be a challenge for a night game where there is no direct sunlight, but for an all day sevens tournament heat exhaustion/stroke is a real threat. See

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DrG January 28, 2013 4:23 am

I don't like idea of this. I read about it, but have never played on it. I suppose this is the future, but I don't like it. As many have said I wonder what scrummaging is going to be like, also special boots again?

Actually, if this has a rubberised shock pad, then I can only assume this means it must be softer under foot? Therefore more difficult to play on when you compare a dry day on this surface and on a natural surface.

I would be very interested to have a run about on one.

Another point could be, will Saracens lose some edge? I can see them doing very well at home playing on this surface for training they'll get used to it, but what if they take a trip over to another team who's surface condition is muddy, will they cope on it?

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browner February 20, 2013 3:49 am

& more importantly to DrG, will you be able to stamp on people as easily if a maul collapses !!

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byehiday January 28, 2013 6:10 am

this stuff is really becoming the mainstay in the U.S at least at high level college play. i can say that scrumming on it can actually be easier, esp if the beading is a full as it is meant to be because you can really grip into it though at speed it can become slick in the rain. also if they dont take proper sanitation into account then we will see lots of players out with staff infections. it also does still eat up your skin when u slide on it. also the beads suck for rugby when you get trapped at the bottom of a ruck. i swear ive had a few under my eyelids over the years and everywhere else imaginable.
However the field is level and there shouldnt be any hidden holes to twist an ankle in. but expect the ball to slide alot faster on kicks but the bounce is generally more consistent and hence easier to read.

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katman January 28, 2013 8:38 am

Hmmm... feels like a slippery slope from this to a situation where 30 blokes in a big room are strapped to Wii consoles and the ref is called the moderator.

Or maybe I'm just one of those conservative South Africans mentioned in the article (talk about useless stereotypes...)

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DrG January 29, 2013 3:16 am

LMAO, although I'd hate for rugby to turn into that, it would be damn funny to see...

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bennyblanco January 28, 2013 11:45 am

Does anybody know the cost of one of these pitches and would it be feasible for a local amateur club to have one installed? Also when the life span of 8 years runs out what's the cost of replacing with a newer version?

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cheyanqui January 28, 2013 4:43 pm

Benny, not sure what the cost is. The fundamental difference of something like this is that there is a tangible upfront capital cost -- not just the first laydown of turf, but you also have to prepare the land for it with grading, drainage, etc.

I would imagine that after eight years, you'll need a brand new carpet of turf.

However, the other capital maintenance affter year eight will be minimal -- perhaps checking the level of the field, confirming the drainages aren't plugged, etc.

As for a quote, I don't think the vendors will give you hard numbers on the web, as they probably want to assess the condition of the building site -- i.e. "every field is different" (like getting a mechanic to quote you a car repair over the phone - good luck)

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browner February 20, 2013 3:53 am

rumour says £500k install, c.£100k upkeep, when venue renting is factored in its a revenue plus ..... bottom line is , less cost that millenium stadium with none of the issues

if the injury stats stack up then expect to see this surface at every Top rugby venue in the Uk inside 10 years !

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tvrdoglavi January 28, 2013 12:46 pm

That is the only hope for Millenium stadium!

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cheyanqui January 28, 2013 4:44 pm

Here is a cool link from the RFU, stating their standards for play.

The good news about this is that if you build an artificial field, you could probably tie these standards into your contract, and make it something the manufacturer / installer agrees to conform with.

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Keenan7 January 28, 2013 7:23 pm

I can see where theyre coming from, the new turf would be extremely convenient for the clubs..."a junior game can start at 9 a.m., play all day on the field, and finish with the professional team at 8p.m." No one could argue with how awesome that would be, and maintenance is a breeze.

But I have played college hand-egg, and I currently play college football, here in the states, and our stadium is turf. I have also had the (mis?)privilege of playing rugby on turf. And here are some pros and cons, not just from me, but from teamates as well...

Pros: Speed of the game is magnified- cuts, accerlation, etc.
- Bounce of the ball, in rugby and football is more predicatable
- in bad weather there is no need to change or slow down your game

-lots of knee and ankle pains,twists, and tweaks... personally my studs snag unnaturally on the unnatural surface, causing my knee and ankle pains
-I have a feeling there is going to be more concussions. The surface is not near as soft as a good grass field, and a head bang on turf could be serious business
-lots of superficial burns, cuts, scratches
-The saracens will be spoiled playing on their artificial turf...and they might go undefeated at home, and have no injuries, but when they go away and play on grass we will start to see them having to stray away from their game, and we will see ankle & knee injuries.
- THE DAMNED BLACK BEADS!!!! THEY GET EVERYWHERE!!! I havnt stepped foot on the turf since our last football match in october...and im still finding them all over my house

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cheyanqui January 28, 2013 11:11 pm


If you play in the mid-Atlantic / Northeast of the USA, most of the fields are built over top of clay or granite bedrock. In which case, those fields can be hard as a rock -- for those of you abroad, if you ever watch Currie Cup -- picture the Griquas pitch in the middle of a South African winter -- hard-packed.

So I think for most people with a grass field, where upkeep is difficult / expensive / impossible, the turf isn't that bad.

If however, you are used to playing on the lovely turfs of the US Pacific Northwest - or the Emerald Isle - sure that artificial stuff will feel like a car parking lot.

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Eoin January 29, 2013 10:31 pm

My club (Garryowen RFC) has this type of pitch in place for a couple of years and after playing quite a few games on it I have to say that there is absolutely no problem. Of course the surface has less give that a wet pitch in January but has more give than a dry pitch in September or March. Proper foot ware is simply proper studs. There was a fear from players that studs would get stuck resulting in ankle and knee injuries but this does not happen. Played plenty times with, ahem, 20mm studs and never a bother. Great, consistent surface to scrumage on, no slippages or surface giving way that might result in dangerous injuries.

The only real problem is from opposition who try to refuse to play on it and scaremonger to try and get an advantage, or offset our advantage, depending on your perspective. However, when was having a decent surface regarded as an unfair advantage before?

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Promin42 January 30, 2013 10:03 pm

the introduction on these pitches actually could be a very good thing for English Rugby allowing teams to play good running rugby year round. We play on this type of pitch every week here in Hong Kong without incident. In fact people complain if we have to use one of the two turf pitches because they are much harder than the artificial ones.

There is also no issue with the bounce of the ball, they take a full stud and cause no problems when scrummaging. They are also fine to play on when its hot (the first few games we played this season it was 36 degrees) and are nothing like those old astro turf carpets that used to give out those nice burns. The only downside is its true those little black rubber bits get everywhere but I'll take that over never having to clean my boots!

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Eamon Dennehy February 02, 2013 11:10 pm

Don't get how scrums will work. How can you get studs locked in?

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William March 29, 2013 10:50 pm

Absolutely abomination. Our home rugby pitch is grass with a sandy base. We practice frequently on one of these pitches also with a sand base. After every training, MUCH more joint pain, torn to pieces by the little nasty grass-lettes, and the beads are EVERYWHERE. The field gets super slippery in the rain.

Scrummaging in full studs it DANGEROUS. On real grass a foot will slide out if the other team barges through. Feet seemingly are glued to the pitch with this garbage fake stuff, We have more injuries training on it than match day.

This is just another ploy by wealthy club owners to keep the proceeds. And like usual, the players suffer with injuries and the fans suffer with the lose of tradition and goodness. Mud IS rugby.

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