Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's Heineken Cup tie earmarked for artificial pitch

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster may well have to play on an artificial pitch in their bid to become European champions.

Mark Anscombe’s men will take on Saracens in late April’s Heineken Cup quarter-final and the London club are pushing to play the game at their new Allianz Park home which will give Ulster their first taste of playing on an artificial surface.

Saracens, who are coached by ex-Ulster boss Mark McCall, are currently in discussions with Barnet Council in the hope they will grant the club the necessary permission to temporarily extend the ground’s capacity from a 10,000 capacity to the 15,000 mark which is required by organisers ERC to stage a quarter-final.

However, Anscombe dismissed any concerns about his side playing on a plastic pitch and stated that Saracens had earned the right to have it on their favoured ground.

“I don’t care really,” the coach said.

“As long as it’s a good ground and the conditions are right — but look, it doesn’t matter, they have won the right to have a home game.”

The Barnet ground is Saracens’ preferred choice for the crunch European game which is due to be played on the weekend of April 26-28 though Wembley and Twickenham are believed to also be potential alternatives.

Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths clearly stated that the club were putting their full weight behind staging the game at their new ground.

“It’s our home now,” he said.

“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 said regarding the talks with the local council.

If Saracens get the green light from the council they will then have to submit their proposal to Heineken Cup organisers ERC by February 6 with a final decision having to be made two days later.

ERC have the ultimate say on where the game will be played after discussions with the host club over their proposed venue.

Ulster will not have any say in the final choice of ground though clearly they may feel somewhat disadvantaged by the surface and will need to address that issue if Allianz Park is approved.

The first game to be played at the ground is due to take place on Sunday when Saracens host Cardiff in the LV=Cup and the official opening of the ground takes place on February 16 when Exeter are the visitors for a Premiership clash.

Allianz Park is the first artificial pitch which has been designed for professional rugby and though studies carried out in American Football, where 14 NFL teams use similar surfaces, show a marginally lower rate of injury there is no existing analysis on the impact it might have on rugby.


Former England full-back Delon Armitage has been cited for an alleged tip tackle during Toulon's stormy Heineken Cup defeat against Montpellier at the weekend.

Armitage was yellow-carded by referee Alain Rolland following the first-half incident on Saturday afternoon

European Rugby Cup announced yesterday that Armitage will face a disciplinary hearing in Dublin on Thursday.

Belfast Telegraph


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