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Ulster won't slip up on Glasgow plastic pitch: Iain Henderson and Rory Best

By Michael Sadlier

Published 22/09/2016

Ulster Rugby's Iain Henderson
Ulster Rugby's Iain Henderson

As if going to Scotstoun wasn't difficult enough, Ulster must now also contend with new conditions underfoot at Glasgow's ground courtesy of their recently laid artificial pitch.

The old turf - though, in fairness, the surface usually resembled a sandpit - was removed at the end of last season for something that will at least remain green and also, of course, further aid the Warriors' renowned attacking and off-loading game.

So now, with three games and wins behind them, Les Kiss' men rack up at one of their least favourite venues in recent years while also having to take on board the different environment and the speed it will bring to the game, as well as the bounce of the ball and altered situation for footwork in the scrums.

No matter how you look at this one, there is no escaping that niggling issue of playing on plastic again and the added advantage it can bring to the home team though, in fairness, this pitch is fairly new to Glasgow as well.

Ulster played on artificial surfaces three times last season, winning their game in Oyonnax but losing at Saracens and Cardiff Blues. Interesting, but they have also won twice before on the Blues' artificial pitch so, overall, it hasn't been a particularly huge impediment.

Ulster's stock answer to the issue is to cite their training facilities at neighbouring Aquinas school which allows them to regularly use an artificial surface to prepare for games.

"The pitch (at Scotstoun) is definitely going to be a difference for us," Iain Henderson admitted. "However, we do at least one or two sessions out the back (at Aquinas) anyway, so we're well versed on that sort of surface."

And scrummaging? "We scrummage quite a bit out the back there and we're well prepared for that as well," added Henderson.

Rory Best actually sees the change at Scotstoun as a positive development compared to what was there before.

"Whenever they didn't have the artificial surface you weren't playing on grass anyway, it was just sand. I think it's an improvement," said Best.

"When they are well laid, I don't see too big a difference between them and grass."

Ulster performance analyst and skills coach Niall Malone added: "I thought they (artificial pitches) actually wouldn't catch on but it looks like every year there's another one as another team goes for one.

"It (playing on the surface) changes things quite dramatically, but we're comfortable that we can play on it.

"But I think if you labour the point about the artificial surface you almost put demons in people's heads."

Even so, for all the drills they perform on the Aquinas surface, playing a live game situation on a full-length plastic pitch is not something Ulster are well acquainted with.

They struggled in the dire first half of last season's visit to Oyonnax when Ulster badly trailed 23-0 at half-time before readjusting and roaring back to win.

Former Leicester Tigers and Ireland player Malone said: "I put that (the first half at Oyonnax) down a bit to the surface and our tackling.

"We do a lot of very controlled stuff on the surface so we don't often tackle a guy and crash him into the ground as on grass.

"Then when we played Saracens (six days later) I felt that we played more like ourselves on their (also artificial) surface.

"I'm hoping as time passes, and we play on it more, that people will just get more used to it."

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