SYNTHETIC pitches may be the future of professional rugby, but some remain to be convinced until the longer-term effects are known.
Gosforth RFC led the way four years ago with the installation of a third-generation (3G) surface at their Druid Park home and, despite encountering some initial scepticism, rugby’s amateur fraternity appear to have gradually warmed to the undoubted benefits.
Sub-zero temperatures throughout the region saw Druid Park as the only venue able to host league rugby earlier this month, with the Callerton ground also coming to the rescue by staging the county President’s Development XV match when Billingham RFC’s grass pitch was frozen solid.
Durham University’s Maiden Castle did likewise for their BUCS Cup clash against Northumbria, but the introduction of the surface at elite level has provided controversy.
Aviva Premiership champions Saracens have gone public on their intention to have a synthetic pitch at their new Copthall Barnet home, while Widnes Vikings opened the new Super League season on the same surface at their Stobart Stadium 11 days ago.
Wakefield’s Richie Mathers was scathing in his criticism after suffering scrapes to his knees and elbows.
Although with temperatures of minus seven on the night the full-back was promptly told to “man-up” by Widnes coach Dennis Betts after a game which would almost certainly have been otherwise postponed. Newcastle Falcons, who boast Druid Park’s 3G surface and Newcastle United’s indoor hall among their numerous training facilities, had even considered replacing the Kingston Park turf with a synthetic equivalent under previous chairman Dave Thompson.
For the time being that is an idea not being actively pursued by the club, much to the relief of their Samoan centre Jamie Helleur.
He said: “I spent a season in Portugal playing on synthetic pitches and I have to say I am not a huge fan.
“I would not want to play on them consistently, or ever play on them if I am totally honest, but I can accept they do have their purpose in training.”
With Druid Park allowing the Falcons to run through their plays when they would otherwise be confined to barracks, the 28-year-old added: “In weeks like this if a pitch is not fit to practice on then it is great to be able to get out and use the plastic field, and every club should have one for that.
“They are great for allsorts of things, and at this time of the year in the UK you would be lost without one.”
Helleur joked: “Someone said to me last week our grass field out the back at Kingston Park was frozen over and me being so naïve with coming from New Zealand I did not know what that meant.
“I ran out onto the field in my boots and it was basically like concrete, which I found amazing.