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Rugby moves onto new surfaces

Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 2
Rugby moves onto new surfaces
Rugby moves onto new surfaces

For many, the sight of rugby players – international as well as amateur – covered in mud, slipping and sliding as they tried to take advantage in the scrum or a rolling maul is a familiar one. Thankfully, those images are fast receding into history as sports pitch technology advances to provide pitches that allow the technical skills of the players to flourish and fast free flowing games to become the norm.

At the international level advances in natural grass pitch construction – and in particular the development of hybrid pitch technology – has resulted in fast, stable and free draining surfaces. Now installed at Twickenham, Murrayfield, Millennium and Aviva Stadium, the development by SAPCA member Desso Sports Systems of the Grassmaster system has set a new standard in natural grass pitch construction.  

The system incorporates a free draining sand rootzone into which mono-filament fibres are injected 200mm deep, at 20mm spacing across the pitch, resulting in approximately 20 million fibres (or 40,076 km of yarn) covering 3 per cent of the total playing surface and reinforcing the natural grass. The ingenuity of the system is found below the surface where the natural grass plant roots grow around the plastic fibres, anchoring the pitch together to create stability and reinforcement, ensuring a uniform surface in good condition at all times.

Installed by specialist machines the synthetic turf yarn is injected into rootzone either prior to seeding of the pitch or after the seeding and establishment of the grass sward.  Once the grass has established the synthetic fibres are hardly visible within the grass sward. But, if the grass cover is lost through high use the synthetic fibres provide some ‘natural’ looking coverage whilst protecting the crown of the plant and rhizomes to aid a faster recovery of the plant leaf. It is claimed by Desso that the use of Grassmaster increases the carrying capacity of the pitch from a typical 200 to 300 hours per annum to around 900 hours and if growing lights, etc. are used this can be increased further to around 1000 hours.

While the use of the Desso Grassmaster system or alternative hybrid technologies from SAPCA members SIS and Greenfields has greatly improved the quality and carrying capacity of natural grass pitches it is the development of synthetic turf pitches specifically for rugby that is starting to allow cost effective superior playing surfaces within the professional and club sectors or the game. The International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) back in the early 2000s recognised the potential benefits long pile third generation synthetic turf surfaces offered the game by providing surfaces that could be installed in regions where natural grass could not be grown or at venues where the playing demands meant that natural grass pitches could just not sustain the high levels of use.

Wishing to ensure that only acceptable quality synthetic turf surfaces are used for rugby the IRB developed a performance standard for synthetic turf rugby surfaces and incorporated it into the Laws of the Game via IRB Regulation 22.   Similar in concept to the standards developed by FIFA for synthetic turf football surfaces the World rugby Standard is based on ensuring synthetic turf surfaces are manufactured from materials of proven quality and offer levels of performance that replicate good quality natural grass.

Of particular concern is the risk of player injury and the Standard pays particular attention to minimising the risk of high impact forces, concussion, fatigue, carpet burns and injury through slipping or twisting.

Compliance with the World Rugby Standard is mandatory for any facility being used for any form of competitive play or rugby training; Regulation 22 requiring all pitches to be surfaced with a synthetic turf surface that has been laboratory tested and shown to meet the Standard.  In addition each pitch needs to be tested prior to use and then retested once every two years to ensure it is still providing the performance and safety the game requires.

Under constant review by World Rugby the Standard has just been upgraded to provide even greater levels of player protection through the life of the playing surface.   This means that a typical system satisfying the 2015 requirements will comprise a 60mm synthetic turf carpet with a granulated rubber (or other form of material such as granulated cork) infill and sand stabilising layer overlaying a rubber or foam shockpad.

Synthetic turf rugby surfaces are now being used for premier league rugby by Saracens, Cardiff Blues and Newcastle Falcons and a number of other elite level clubs are known to be considering converting to the surface.

At the community level the ability to sustain much higher levels of use on a single synthetic turf pitch is proving very attractive to many rugby clubs and leisure centres. They are now able to train and hold a large number of matches on the same pitch or diversity and allow the use of the pitch for football, rugby league and even basic hockey training.  This ability to maximise the use of a pitch is one that World Rugby, FIFA, FIH and RFL all wish to encourage and they are jointly working towards a common standard that define the basic requirements to allow all four sports to be played safely on one surface.

Likely to be published later this year or early in 2016 the One Turf initiative my help to finally allow all players to move away from the mud baths or yesteryear to the clean, fast and technically skilled surfaces that the professional game is already using.

Alastair Cox, Alastair Cox Associates

Technical advisor to SAPCA

British sports facility companies urged to look overseas

Over the years, British manufacturers, designers and contractors of sports facilities have shown they can compete on the world stage. Keen to develop this exporting expertise further, SAPCA has invited Paul Langford of TigerTurf to join its board with the remit of helping companies with limited export experience to take the first steps.

This links well with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), which has, historically, focused on only working with exporters involved in the delivery of major sports events. It is now broadening its strategy to encourage UK companies that are involved in sports facility construction and development at any level to consider the opportunities abroad.

SAPCA has recently been reaccredited by UKTI as a Trade Challenge Partner, and will be working more closely with UKTI in the future. It has created a new Export Group within the membership and will start by producing an export strategy.

FSB showcases the latest trends within the games, sport, swimming pools and amenities industry.

Held every two years, the show will feature an exhibition floor of more than 80,000sq m and is described as a ‘source of inspiration for the design of tomorrow’s urban living spaces.’

• Any company, even if not a SAPCA member can join the UK trade delegation to the show.

More information is available from SAPCA on 024 7641 4773 or by email: [email protected]

SAPCA is focusing on promoting its member companies abroad and SAPCA members will again attend the FSB show in Cologne later this year
SAPCA is focusing on promoting its member companies abroad and SAPCA members will again attend the FSB show in Cologne later this year
Paul Langford will chair SAPCA’s Export Group
Paul Langford will chair SAPCA’s Export Group


SAPCA will be working closely with the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) in 2015, with both organisations actively supporting each other’s events. The IOG will participate in and help to promote SAPCA’s Sports Facility Shows, and SAPCA will support and take part in the IOG SALTEX exhibition.

This year, on its 70th anniversary, SALTEX will move indoors and will be held on 4-5 November at the NEC, Birmingham.

As well as taking part in the exhibition, SAPCA will support the show’s enhanced and free-to-attend education programme, entitled LEARNING LIVE, by presenting four seminars:
• Maintenance of synthetic sports surfaces;
• Standards for sports equipment;
• Design of multi-use games areas; and
• Design of bases for outdoor sports surfaces.

With a new venue, a more convenient date and an impressive exhibitor list, IOG believes SALTEX 2015 will be one of the must-attend events of the year.

• Register free at

SAPCA launches new quality system

The Sports and Play Construction Association, SAPCA, has strengthened its role in promoting high standards for the UK’s sports and play facilities, with the launch of its new Quality System

The new Quality System brings together a number of key areas of SAPCA’s activities, and puts a strong emphasis on regular inspections of SAPCA members’ work, to ensure that contractors always deliver projects to the satisfaction of their clients.

The main elements of the Quality System are as follows.

Strict membership criteria
SAPCA’s membership criteria ensure that only specialist contractors, with a proven track record and trading history, can be admitted. Through inspections of applicants’ work, SAPCA checks that contractors have the requisite expertise and experience, and can offer clients the necessary high standards of workmanship.
Financial stability

SAPCA works closely with credit reference specialist Experian, and bases its membership criteria on the Commercial Delphi Scoring System used by Experian within its Risk Reports. SAPCA demands that all contractor and manufacturer applicants must have a minimum Commercial Delphi score of 40 out of 100. SAPCA also monitors the financial stability of its members on an annual basis and insists that all contractors and manufacturers must meet its current requirements for financial stability in order to renew their SAPCA membership at the start of each year.

Customer service
Each year all SAPCA members are required to re-sign the Code of Professional Conduct, through which companies are committed to high standards of customer service and business practice.

Standards of design and construction
SAPCA has a series of codes of practice that set out and define the industry’s standards of construction. SAPCA members must comply with the required construction specifications and quality of completed work.

Inspection of contractors’ projects
In order to ensure that SAPCA contractors continue to deliver high quality facilities, the Association has introduced a new inspection programme, through which checks are carried out on a selection of members’ projects, both during construction and on completion.

The new initiative began last year with the inspection of tennis facility projects, built by members of SAPCA’s Tennis Court Division. An inspection team, including representatives of the Lawn Tennis Association, visited a number of sites and assessed the projects. As well as providing valuable feedback to the contractors directly involved, the information gathered was also used to share best practice at the association’s annual conference.

The inspection regime is being extended to all of SAPCA’s Principal Contractors, in order to cover all types of sports and play facilities constructed by SAPCA members. A new system has just been introduced for regular inspections of synthetic pitch projects, based largely on feedback from independent consultants that are members of SAPCA’s Professional Services Group.

Complaint resolution
Clients that choose member contractors have the added reassurance that SAPCA provides impartial assistance in the resolution of complaints and disputes on the technical aspects of projects.

Customer feedback
The clients of all SAPCA members are invited to provide feedback on their projects, and the performance of the companies that they have employed.

Education and training
Each year, SAPCA provides a series of educational opportunities for its members that help to share technical knowledge and best practice, and reinforce the high standards that are required of SAPCA companies.

SAPCA CEO Chris Trickey said: “The Quality System ensures that only specialist companies that can consistently deliver high standards can join SAPCA and remain as members. The Quality System underlines the benefits of choosing members of SAPCA and will give greater peace of mind to sports clubs, schools and universities, local authorities and all other clients”.

SAPCA’s inspection teams ensure members deliver high quality facilities
SAPCA’s inspection teams ensure members deliver high quality facilities

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