English rugby union turns its attention towards synthetic turf

English rugby union turns its attention towards synthetic turf

Momentum, they say, is always key in any successful sporting conquest. In which case, the ever-increasing support for the introduction of synthetic turf in rugby union should see artificial surfaces ultimately win out in the battle against natural grass.

As we end the 2012/13 season, there appears to be more and more key decision makers from within the sport beginning to state publicly their interest in synthetic surfaces, as they see the benefits that trailblazers at all levels of the game including Gosforth RFC, Maidenhead RFC and, most recently, Premiership heavyweights Saracens, have highlighted in playing regular fixtures on synthetic turf.     


The introduction of synthetic turf to senior rugby union leagues is a relatively new one, as Gosforth RFC became the first senior rugby team in the UK to play its league fixtures on the surface since moving to Druids Park at the start of the 2007/08 season.


While both Brighton and Moseley RFC had worked with the RFU, Football Association and Football Foundation on successful joint funding bids for new dual sport training facilities, it was Gosforth RFC that can claim to be the original pioneers for a non-grass playing surface in the UK.


The club has a rich history dating back to 1877, but can forever now claim to be at the forefront in a trend that may soon be followed by a number of clubs across all levels, thus opening up a significant new market for European-based synthetic turf manufacturers.        


Fast forward three years and with the momentum building, Maidenhead RFC, a National League 3 South West team that famously nurtured the England flanker James Haskell, hit the sports headlines as they started the 2012/13 season playing on a synthetic surface. As the season comes to an end the debate is increasing further after Saracens moved to Allianz Park to play their final five Aviva Premiership home games on synthetic turf. 

The introduction of synthetic turf at the Allianz Stadium has led to major media interest surrounding the virtues of playing rugby union on a surface other than natural grass. Almost without exception, the feedback from opposing teams has been positive and so with the technical arguments shown to be flawed and as other clubs look at ways to generate new revenues, the prospect of more synthetic turf pitches being installed in the professional game has become increasingly probable. 

“Allowing clubs greater access to the pitch and the benefits this access provides them in increasing non-match day revenues, as well as greater usage of the stadium and the advantages for active supporter engagement means the future for synthetic turf in rugby union looks brighter than at any stage previously,” explains ESTO chairman, Nigel Fletcher.


“We know through our work with the Football League in England and the production of the ESTO Fans Concept report that the issues for the vast majority of professional football clubs across Europe is the same as the challenge for rugby union clubs and synthetic turf could play a significant part of the solution for clubs that need to raise revenues.”

Commenting on the opportunities this could provide the industry and therefore ESTO’s members, Nigel said, “ESTO has worked closely with the International Rugby Board and national rugby unions for a number of years to ensure greater promotion of synthetic surfaces in the sport. Sometimes it just takes one or two clubs to highlight the benefits and others will quickly follow.


“This appears to be what is happening now in England and across the UK, which is potentially excellent news for members.”


With over 3000 rugby clubs registered with the Rugby Football Union in England, many of which own their own pitches, the sport’s authorities are supporting facility development with greater grant aid now available and in the build up to and post the 2015 Rugby World Cup, it would appear that rugby union could offer a significant new revenue stream for ESTO members.

Want to find out more? Here are some useful links…

To download the ESTO Fans Concept click here.

To download the full Technical Document for the Specification of IRB Artificial Rugby Turf Performance Specification – One Turf Technical Manual, click here.

To learn more about the RFU’s policy on synthetic turf click here.

Further information on each of the clubs mentioned in this article can be found on their websites:

Gosforth RFC


Maidenhead RFC


Saracens RFC