RFU tackles weather woes with £57m investment in 100 artificial pitches
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RFU tackles weather woes with £57m investment in 100 artificial pitches

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The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will invest £57m (US$86.4m, €78.5m) into the development of 100 artificial pitches over the next four-years as it attempts to increase participation.

Money will be spent by the governing body on two types of pitch across the country. Around 60 will be built on sites owned or leased by rugby clubs to be used by the host club and other local clubs at the cost of £47m (US$71.3m, €64.7m), fully funded by the RFU.

A further £10m (US$15.2m, €13.8m) will be spent on part-funding 40 artificial pitches, which will be established on community sites with a guaranteed number of hours allocated for rugby.

Construction will begin shortly, with the first six pitches expected to be operational by September 2016.

Around 60 of the 700 artificial pitches in the UK are rugby-compliant (less than 10 per cent). Rugby-compliant criteria factors in ball bounce, head impact and carpet joint strength. Less than 10 artificial pitches are currently located on community rugby club sites.

Pressure on natural turf pitches, changing player expectations, competition from other sports investing in artificial pitches and changing weather conditions are factors behind the drive.

In the last four-year period, RFU data shows that wetter winters had a “serious impact” on the rugby season, with 1,766 adult games being lost over two weekends in February 2014 alone. More than 600 natural turf pitches remained unplayable for a further three weeks.

During last month’s Rugby Expo at Twickenham, RFU head of club development Simon Winman said that artificial pitches would make the sport more accessible to individuals, particularly in the 16-25 age bracket.

“With changing expectations and aspirations it is clear that rugby, like other sports, needs to provide playing surfaces that meet modern requirements,” said RFU rugby development director Steve Grainger.

“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.”

Sport England’s Active People Survey, published last week (10 December), revealed that rugby union participation grew by 18,000 year-on-year to 191,900 over the 12 months from October 2014 to September 2015.

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