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'The cuts are brutal. It's crazy. You have boys getting skin grafts'

By Ian Cameron

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Exeter Chiefs winger Jack Nowell has added his name to the growing list of players that have voiced their concern around 4G pitches in rugby, branding the experience of playing on them as ‘horrendous’.

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England prop Joe Marler stirred debate over the pitch surface this week, simply tweeting ‘Ban 4G pitches’, with many agreeing with the sentiment of the Harlequins loosehead.

Currently, a number of clubs in both the URC and the Gallagher Premiership use artificial pitch surfaces, with the likes of Saracens, Worcester Warriors, Newcastle Falcons, Glasgow Warriors and Cardiff Rugby all applying the technology. Proponents of the surfaces say that they lend themselves to a better, faster brand of rugby, while critics point to player welfare as a major concern.

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RugbyPass Offload | S2 EP2 | Rugby Returns with Jack Nowell, Ryan Wilson & Max Lahiff
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RugbyPass Offload | S2 EP2 | Rugby Returns with Jack Nowell, Ryan Wilson & Max Lahiff

Severe abrasions and knee ligament injuries have been associated with the surfaces, with professional players from clubs with grass pitches regularly taking to social media to showcase horrific-looking cuts after playing on artificial pitches.

Nowell says that he can’t stand the pitches and says he feels ‘like death’ the week after having to compete on the surfaces.

“I can’t stand them,” Nowell told The Offload podcast. “I’m in a position now that I can play on them but when I was younger I struggled quite a bit with patellar tendonitis. I had that op [operation] done eventually.

“So I’m kind of in a position to play on them, but they’re just not nice.

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“When you get through the game, you feel alright, then your Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday sessions are horrendous.

“I can’t run. I feel very, very sore, worse than I normally would after a game. I don’t know if you become robust to them or used to playing on them.”

Nowell concedes that Desso pitches – mixed grass and artificial – are excellent, but that the cheaper, multi-purpose 4G alternatives are not up to scratch.

“If you put a Desso pitch [mixed grass and synthetic] next to a 4G pitch, the reason you use a 4G pitch is to get more use out of them, let people walk on them, do concerts on them or whatever, that’s not about the rugby and I understand that. Clubs have got to make money but that’s not about the rugby.

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“It’s not worth putting players are risk over it. I know there are studies that come out saying there’s not a lot more risk on them, but I reckon that’s got to be complete rubbish.

“If you saying that you put a Desso pitch and grass pitch versus a 4G pitch and you say you’re not getting more injuries, then that’s complete lies.

“It’s all about cuts. Anyone who doesn’t like them puts pictures of their cuts up. The cuts are brutal. It’s crazy. You get boys having skin grafts.

“Players aren’t able to train because their wounds are so badly opened and they’re not healing and they’re infected. It’s horrible.

“You can promise until you are blue in the face how good artificial pitches and how won’t get cut. No matter what you do, you’re always going to get cuts on it, unless it’s grass.

“That’s just the cuts side of it. There’s the shock side of it and the load side.

“We’ve had a lot of boys with ACLs and stuff. With grass and Desso there’s a certain give. With Desso they are 60 – 40, so there is a bit to it. They [Desso] look good and they are kept better, but if you go full 4G, they just don’t help your body.

“Even just the way you feel. You can’t train. The last time I played on one, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I felt like death. It wasn’t until Thursday and Friday – and I was playing on Friday – that I felt better again.

“This year will be interesting. We’ve got Glasgow, Worcester, Sarries and Newcastle all within four or five weeks [all with 4G pitches]. It’s going to be a test for a few of our boys.”

Podcast regular Ryan Wilson, who plays and trains on Glasgow’s 4G pitch gave a slightly different take.

“What I would say is that a Desso pitch is a lot more expensive,” said Wilson. “That’s probably why people go for the cheaper option. If I had the choice, I’d play on Desso all day long, even over grass.

“You don’t get as dirty and they are prestine. The weather in Glasgow is the main reason we ended up getting a fully synthetic pitch.

“It just rains all the time and the pitch just flooded and flooded and flooded. I do believe you get more used to it [4G pitches]. I’ve got used to play on it. I train on it every single day. We don’t train on a grass pitch.”

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'The cuts are brutal. It's crazy. You have boys getting skin grafts'

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