At its meeting last month, the RFU Council approved a £57m (US$86.4m, €78.5m) strategy to invest in Artificial Grass Pitches (AGP), which will see 100 artificial, floodlit pitches installed across the country over a four-year period.
This is a significant capital investment, which will fund two types of pitches in locations across the UK to ensure maximum access and rugby participation:
- 60 on rugby club sites to be used by the host club and other local clubs, enabling games to be played and training to be maximised
- 40 on community sites with a guaranteed number of hours for use by rugby
While there are close to 700 AGPs in England, rugby can be played on less than 10% of them due to the others not complying with the World Rugby specifications for build and performance, which includes criteria such as ball bounce, head impact and carpet joint strength. Of the 10% that are usable, less than 10 are currently located on community rugby club sites.
The major driver for installing artificial pitches is to sustain and grow participation in the game against a backdrop of increasing pressure on natural turf pitches, changing player expectations, competition from other sports investing in artificial pitches and changing weather conditions.
Over the past four years, RFU data shows that wetter winters are having a serious impact on the rugby season, resulting in more games and training sessions being cancelled. In February 2014, 1,766 adult games were lost over two weekends due to bad weather and over 600 natural turf pitches remained unplayable for three weeks afterwards.
Steve Grainger, RFU Rugby Development Director, said:
With changing expectations and aspirations it is clear that rugby, like other sports, needs to provide playing surfaces that meet modern requirements.
Following Rugby World Cup 2015 there has been an upsurge in interest in rugby, not least from aspiring coaches, referees and young players, and this is an exciting opportunity to further develop our community rugby facilities.
The project will get underway with an initial six of the 60 rugby club pitches aiming to be operational by September 2016.