Sarries keen to host Ulster clash on artificial pitch

Saracens are in discussion with Barnet Council over the possibility of staging their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at their new Allianz Park home.

The Barnet ground is the preferred choice for the match, which is to be played on the weekend of April 26-28, with Wembley or Twickenham potential alternatives.

Sunday’s test event against Cardiff in the LV= Cup will be the first game played on the artificial pitch in front of a crowd of 3,500, three weeks before the official opening against Exeter on February 16.

Chief executive Edward Griffiths hopes Barnet Council will grant Saracens permission to temporarily increase the 10,000 capacity to 15,000 to comply with tournament organisers European Rugby Cup’s rules for hosting quarter-finals.

“There are a number of hoops to go through before we can hold the match at Allianz Park,” Griffiths said.

“We are in talks with the council over the capacity to see if it’s perfectly possible to increase the capacity for one match, or if it’s too soon.

“This is our home ground now so we’d like to stage the match here. This is absolutely our first choice.

“We want to try and bring those discussions to a close by the end of next week. We want something agreed as soon as possible.”

Griffiths insists the eyes of the rugby world will be upon Allianz Park as Saracens are installing the first artificial pitch designed for professional rugby.

A demonstration of the surface was conducted this morning with representatives of the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs invited to attend to gather information.

Studies of American football – 14 NFL teams use similar surfaces – show a marginally lower rate of injury, but no analysis exists on the impact it will have on rugby.

“Chief executives at South African provinces, who you’d think are the most conservative people in rugby, are looking at ways of addressing the huge maintenance costs of their pitches,” Griffiths said.

“They’ve had an hour and a half-long discussion at board level about installing artificial turf at a Test venue, but said they would see what happens at Saracens first.

“Literally, the world of rugby from New Zealand to South Africa, from Wales to Murrayfield, is looking to see how this pitch plays and runs.

“All our evidence so far is that it will play magnificently well. Our expectation is that between three and five years the majority of rugby pitches will be artificial.”

While Griffiths is convinced Saracens’ experiment will be a success, he admits only time will indicate whether it is feasible.

“We’re very confident that for rugby this is a step forward and will produce the faster, safer and more entertaining game we always talk about,” Griffiths said.

“Anyone who has seen winter games where sometimes there isn’t one single blade of grass, I can’t think that’s good for rugby.

“If the technology is now right so that we can offer the perfect pitch seen on the first game of the season on any day of the year, that has to be good for the game.

“We can talk endlessly about this, but ultimately it’s about how the game plays.

“We’ll get an idea against Cardiff on Sunday, but we’re guarding against any knee-jerk reactions.

“Like anything, it must be judged fairly over a period of time. People are curious and aren’t quite sure.

“When you say artificial pitch, people immediately think QPR or Luton all those years ago and that mindset has to be changed.”

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