The age of the plastic pitch is about to return to Preston more than 20 years after the city’s football club ripped theirs up.
Work has begun on creating a £750,000 artificial surface for rugby at Preston Grasshoppers’ stadium in Lightfoot Green, Fulwood.
And by the end of this year the club will be treading in the studmarks of Premiership teams Saracens and Newcastle Falcons by playing their home matches on a state-of-the-art 3G pitch.
The development is funded by the RFU as part of a £50m initiative to grow participation in rugby. Hoppers is one of the first three clubs in England to benefit as the sport’s governing body sets about building 100 new floodlit artificial pitches over the next four years.
“Grasshoppers is one of the oldest clubs in the country and has produced players that have gone on to secure international honours and win world cups,” said the club’s general manager Richard Ellis.
“The investment by the RFU is tremendous for us and the local community as it provides a significant sporting facility. This is a major event in the club’s history and one that will hopefully encourage more people to get involved in rugby and experience Hoppers’ welcoming environment.
“In addition to increasing participation in the game it will also mean that match cancellations will significantly reduce.”
As a condition of the funding, Hoppers will share the pitch with the community, allowing grassroots teams and schools to use the surface all year round.
Steve Grainger, RFU rugby development director, said: “Wetter winters are having a serious impact on the rugby season, resulting in more games and training sessions being cancelled.
“In February 2014 a total of 1,766 adult games were lost over just two weekends due to bad weather and over 600 natural turf pitches were unplayable for three weeks as a result.
“Each new artificial grass pitch built will enable between 1,500 and 2,000 additional hours of rugby within the respective local communities each year, giving 58,000 new players the opportunity to play rugby.”