At the last RFU Council meeting in December an announcement was made that the RFU will fund 100 floodlit artificial grass pitches (“AGPs“) over the next four years for grassroots rugby.
The idea for the AGP strategy is, in theory, a very good one. These pitches can be used to protect the grass pitches at clubs and schools which become torn up / waterlogged / etc. during the winter and rainy months. This will give more players more training time as well as match time – as it will minimise the need to reschedule fixtures due to bad weather.
More pitches to be used by more people would be great, but there is a massive amount to overcome ato make this project truly beneficial to clubs and a lot of hard work will be required from the respective committee members.
The first is that the RFU will be funding pitches at both club and school locations, so there will be different factors to consider in relation to these very different environments.
An AGP at a school will potentially be placed beside several rugby clubs. This means that in the event of unusable club grass pitches a number of clubs might want to use the AGP.
Training might be ok (although logistically challenging), but how would the decision on which league game or youth match gets to be played on the AGP be decided?
Also, there will be a cost associated in using the pitch in a school environment.
Even if a club can get a school to allow them to use a grass pitch now (and even when you are working with them in the All School Projects that isn’t always the case), the school will charge the club to open the field, changing rooms, etc.
I accept that this cost needs to be covered and it equally needs to be done at a club level as well, but in a club environment this cost is covered with volunteers or existing provisions. Who will bear this additional cost at a school?
Also, holding matches away from the clubhouses of rugby clubs has always significantly impacted on the numbers returning for a drink / social afterwards.
That said, it is still better to hold the matches than not play at all.
The prospect of AGPs at clubs is potentially better.
In my opinion, the pitches are being funded by the RFU, so they should be located at rugby clubs and not in schools.
At a rugby club, however, there are other concerns.
The idea is that the AGPs will be used when it is not possible to play on the usual grass pitches. However, there is a potential that an AGP would or could become the 1st team pitch with all the associated support of the lights, etc.
This could result in various outcomes, including: (a) a lack of willingness to train on AGPs, (2) teams not wanting to share the AGPs as they would become highly coveted even for training sessions and (3) teams not being able to share the pitch (for example, if the weather is bad the minis, youth, ladies and seniors of a club would also want to train on it which in reality would leave little time for the pitch to be shared between clubs).
Issues for both
In both school and club environments the AGPs will require lights for training if they are to be used efficiently. That’s a cost which will need to be factored in for either venues.
Whilst the lights appear to be part of the installation, the running costs probably won’t be.
If the “host” club covers that cost of running the lights, then the impact on sharing the AGP would also need to be shared somehow.
Then we get to the fact that the clubs themselves can’t “bid” on having the pitch at their facility. It would therefore seem that other data will be used to make these decision. This must come from the data the RFU have on player numbers, teams, etc. and I’m not certain of the validity of that information.
It would therefore seem that this can only be a facilities improvement to the host (either the school or the individual club) where the AGP will be installed.
For more information, you may want to check out the following blog of a counsel member in our constituent body, where he shared details about the project as well as his insight here.
I think that the idea is a great one – more pitches to be used by more people – but there is a massive amount to overcome to make this truly beneficial to the majority of clubs.
I suppose there is a lot of hard work to come for the committees responsible…