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Will the future arrive on Sunday?

Tue, 22 Jan 2013 19:07
Allianzparkturf Charliehodgsonsaracenstrysnow Alexcuthbertcardiff
These pitches can transform rugby
Quote-end

Saracens and Cardiff Blues will make history this Sunday as they play the first-ever professional top-flight match in Europe on artificial turf in their Anglo-Welsh Cup clash at the new Allianz Park.

The encounter will be the first for Sarries at the 10,000-seater stadium in Barnet, London, which is set to become their permanent home.

And the artificial surface, designed after six years of research by Support in Sport, is the first of its kind in the sport - with the three-layered rugby-specific surface made up of 65mm synthetic blades and a shock pad to reduce the threat of joint injuries.

Synthetic pitches were a revolution when introduced to field hockey in the 1980s, while 13 American Football teams in the NFL also play on similar surfaces.

Despite an initial installation cost of £500,000 the all-weather pitch is low-maintenance, with an eight-year cycle before it needs to be replaced, and will debut in the Premiership on February 13 when Exeter Chiefs visit Allianz Park.

And with the rugby world set to be watching this Sunday, Sarries chief executive Edward Griffiths is delighted the club are pioneering what he believes will be the future of the sport.

“We are incredibly excited about this new chapter for this rugby club and what we feel could be a new chapter in this sport as a whole,” he said.

“We believe that what these pitches did to hockey can be replicated in rugby. Hockey was transformed by the introduction of these pitches and I am certain that is a possibility in rugby.

“This surface has been created just for rugby and all the research shows us it will be a faster game and one which will still be safe for the players to use.

“I have had conversations with people in South Africa, Australia, and I know people are interested at places like Murrayfield as well, and all these places are waiting to see whether this experiment is successful going forward because if it is I think it will be a route more and more clubs go towards.

“If this surface here is a success in the long-run, does it mean rugby pitches in the next five years will all be artificial or moving in that direction? I think it probably does.”

The move to Barnet ends a period of nomadic travel for Saracens, who have played ‘home’ fixtures at six different venues far this season as they waited for building work to be completed at Allianz Park.

And Griffiths is confident Saracens can adapt to life at a new stadium quickly and believes teams will enjoy coming to Allianz Park because of the unique playing surface.

“I think a home venue always gives a team an edge but this one will be a bit different,” he added.

“Teams will come here knowing they have to contend with a new pitch – one which we will let them train on beforehand – but I’m sure people will quickly see the positives far outweigh the negatives.”

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