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Rugby Expo: RFU execs lift the lid on artificial grass pitch programme

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Twenty-seven clubs and partners have been lined up by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as part of the first phases of its £50m artificial grass pitch (AGP) programme.

During a session at Rugby Expo, executives from the governing body lifted the lid on the project, which is expected to bring 16,000 regular players into the sport by 2020.

AGP project manager Rory Price told delegates that 22 clubs had been identified as part of the RFU’s Rugby Turf model, with 20 pitches expected to be complete by summer 2018. Of that 20, five are part of a pilot phase, with three completed already in Aylesbury, Preston and Weston-super-Mare.

Another 40 will be built by 2020 to bring that number up to 60, with the RFU will investing £750,000 in each site in exchange for 30-year leases.

Clubs are not able to make expressions of interest for the funding as the programme is being “solicited” by the RFU, which is looking for specific criteria such as land ownership, quality of amenities and local provision.

However, the organisation with fund a third of 40 further community pitches in collaboration with other partners in areas where rugby clubs don’t own pitches and where there is significant need.

Five sites are in development in this Rugby Share scheme, according to facilities investment manager Ross Baxter, who added that the RFU was “not precious” about who the partners were as long as they made participation and maintenance commitments.

Last month, Sports Management revealed that the body was working with the Football Association on a Rugby Share site in Liverpool.

Parts of the country such as Gloucester and London were highlighted as areas of need, with the latter having 50 rugby clubs, although only three own their pitches.

Baxter revealed that Rugby Share agreements will last for the life of the pitch, which is expected to be around 8-10 years.

While the rate of participation will be the main metric the RFU uses to decide the success of the facilities, Price said that the body would survey players to get an idea of their experience.

He added that he was also keen to make a “cultural shift” in terms of encouraging flexible playing times and codes such as 7s and touch rugby, getting more people involved.

To read more about the RFU’s artificial pitch programme, read Sports Management’s interview with the organisation’s director of development Steve Grainger in November’s edition.

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Twenty-seven clubs and partners have been lined up by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as part of the first phases of its £50m artificial grass pitch (AGP) programme.
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All 60 Rugby Turf pitches will be built by 2020
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