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Heineken Cup: Sarries want to host Ulster on plastic pitch

Saracens will need permission for a temporary increase in capacity if they are to stage the Heineken Cup quarter-final at their new home in Allianz Park.

Saracens compete against Edinburgh at a snowy Vicarage Road on Sunday.
Saracens compete against Edinburgh at a snowy Vicarage Road on Sunday.
Image: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

SARACENS ARE HOPING are hoping to get permission to play their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at their new Allianz Park home in north-west London.

Barnet Copthall stadium 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 — Sarries 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.

“There are a number of hoops to go through before we can hold the match at Allianz Park,” chief executive Edward Griffiths said yesterday.

“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.

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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.”

- © AFP, 2013

Caption competition: Donncha O’Callaghan doing the unseen work again in Carton House

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