Saracens want to put plastic pitch to European test
Saracens are hoping to get local authority permission to play their European Cup quarter-final against Ulster at their new Allianz Park home in north-west London.
Barnet Copthall stadium, previously best known as the home of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, one of England’s leading athletics clubs, now boasts an artificial pitch which Saracens believe will boost community use while still providing an acceptable surface for top-flight rugby.
But in order to be used for the Ulster match, rather than have it played at Twickenham or Wembley instead, Premiership side Saracens need to get permission from Barnet Council to temporarily increase capacity from 10,000 to 15,000 — the minimum needed for a European Cup quarter-final.
Sunday’s match against Cardiff in the Anglo-Welsh Cup will be the first game played on the new surface.
“There are a number of hoops to go through before we can hold the (Ulster) match at Allianz Park,” Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths said Monday.
“We are in talks with the council over the capacity to see if it’s perfectly possible to increase the capacity for one match, or if it’s too soon.
“This is our home ground now so we’d like to stage the match here,” added Griffiths, who has overseen a mid-season move which ends some 15 years of ground-sharing for Saracens at nearby Watford Football Club.
Although strands of artificial turf have been used to ’bolster’ otherwise natural grass rugby pitches, Saracens’ new stadium boasts the first fully artificial pitch for professional rugby.
“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,” Griffiths said.
“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.”
When used briefly by a handful of English professional football clubs in the 1980s, ’plastic pitches’ became notorious for extravagant bounce and creating friction-burn injuries.
But Griffiths insisted Saracens’ pitch bore a far closer resemblance to natural turf.
“When you say artificial pitch, people immediately think QPR or Luton all those years ago and that mindset has to be changed.”