Newcastle Falcons yesterday took possession of their new plastic pitch, hosting an open training session for the media at Kingston Park.
The third-generation artificial rugby turf surface marks an end to seasons of battling against the mud at the Aviva Premiership’s most northerly venue, with Newcastle set to host Rotherham a week on Saturday in their first match on the new pitch.
Managing director Mick Hogan said: “Consistency is the main thing, and this surface should play very similarly in the depths of winter to how it does at the beginning of September.
“It means that when fans turn up they know the weather and the state of the pitch is not going to be a massive factor in how the games pan out, and everyone saw what things were like last season.
“Some of the games at Kingston Park were wars of attrition. They were proper players’ games which might be highly enjoyable for some people to play in, but they were not the greatest to watch. This new pitch just takes that out of the equation, and gives us one less thing to worry about.”
With barriers having already been broken down thanks to other clubs, Hogan added: “There is not the same uncertainty and mystique now that there once was with artificial pitches, with people like Saracens, Cardiff Blues and Widnes rugby league having played on them for a couple of years now.
“We have had a similar surface for training at Druid Park for seven years now, and all the players here have been on that many times.
“The concept is not new any more, and they have got better. We think the one that we have now is the best in Europe, and you always think that when you buy the latest version of anything.”
Newcastle’s new pitch has tied in with strong season ticket sales ahead of the new campaign, Hogan revealing: “We have just gone past 2,200, which is our highest total for five seasons, and we hope to be past the 2,500 mark by the time the season starts.
“The free season tickets for under-11s and junior rugby players up to 15 have proved very popular, and we will have more junior season ticket holders than ever before.
“They have all got to bring a paying adult with them, but we know how far we have got to go when you compare it with other clubs around the division. We can only try and improve on what we did last year, and we are already doing that.”
Meanwhile, Durham City are hosting a game against Consett on Sunday in memory of former player Jordan Graham.
Graham was killed after falling from a roof last year, the proceeds from Sunday’s game going towards a trust for his one-year-old son Toby and to show him how highly his dad was regarded.
Entry to the 2pm kick-off at Durham City RFC is free of charge but donations will be taken on the day, auction items having been donated by England lock Geoff Parling, Newcastle Falcons rugby club and the Scottish Rugby Union, among others.
In other local rugby news, Houghton have announced the return of Ryan Pink and Jack Masters as assistant coaches to director of rugby, Chris Simpson, who will also perform head coach duties.
This weekend’s pre-season friendly schedule sees Westoe travelling to West Hartlepool on Saturday, former Falcons and Italy lock Carlo del Fava having taken up a role as forwards coach with the Shieldsmen.
Percy Park travel to Cleckheaton the same day, Blaydon are at home to Currie, Stockton host Bishop Auckland, Ryton visit Whitley Bay Rockliff and Darlington Mowden Park welcome Cambridge in a pair of friendly matches.
Gosforth RFC have confirmed they will leave Druid Park and be based at Northumbria University’s Bullocksteads ground for the coming season, while Darlington RFC have appointed Gary Beck as head coach following Shaun Richardson’s resignation.