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Big freeze: Premiership has it covered

Wed, 26 Dec 2012 08:23
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Even those that have under-soil heating have bought into it
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While other sports sweat over how much havoc the British weather may wreak on prospective winter schedules, the Premiership need not worry thanks to the adoption of a pitch-covering system.

With the mercury hitting single figures, pitches across the country are subject to freezing but a partnership between Premiership Rugby and Sports and Stadia Services, an investment worth £200,000, has nullified that threat.

All 12 clubs now employ the MacLeod cover - a huge pitch cover with a central inflatable tube which allows warm air to be blown underneath to protect a pitch from freezing or, in some circumstances, defrost the ground.

And evidence of its effectiveness can be found during February of last year when low temperatures threatened the LV= Cup schedule - however matches at Sale Sharks, Harlequins, Bath, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester and London Wasps all went ahead.

Nigel Felton, owner of Sports and Stadia Services, said: "During that weekend without our covers those games would not have gone ahead.

"Originally we provided just three systems but last season they decided they wanted five and so last winter was the first time we had those in place and to good effect.

"When we had 12 clubs, some were reluctant but now even those that have under-soil heating have bought into the fact that the system is very helpful.

"Everybody benefits and there is no room for games getting cancelled especially when you consider the hectic schedule and international fixtures."

Clubs are informed on whether the system will be required by Felton, who will make a recommendation based on a seven-day weather forecast.

And despite a milder than usual December period, Felton insisted the decision to use the equipment was a no-brainer considering the hassle generated by postponements.

"I will send forecasts out to the clubs and recommend whether they need to put the system in place and how long in advance," added Felton.

"Typically if bad weather is predicted the system will be in place the Tuesday before a Saturday game.

"We are more interested in preventing the pitch from freezing rather than defrosting it as that is no good for the surface.

"I think it's a no-brainer for the clubs. If the cost is spread across the league, by saving just one game a year it will be beneficial to all involved.

"In the time we have been working with Premiership Rugby there has not bee a season where we haven't saved a number of games."

Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation of the Aviva Premiership clubs has made a considerable financial commitment to the pitch protection scheme and is committed to ensuring all matches go ahead.

"Without the SSS systems it is highly likely that games would be called off and we would face the prospect of midweek rugby," said Phil Winstanley the Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby.

"By ensuring that our fixtures have the best possible chance of going ahead we maintain the integrity within our competitions and we protect player welfare by minimising the risk of rearranged midweek matches.

"We can't control the elements and won't always win the battle when extreme conditions on the roadways and concourses around our grounds force games to be postponed , but we can do everything in our power to make sure that pitches are playable and that rugby union in England suffers as little disruption as possible."

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