12 November 2010
BATH BOSS HOPEFUL OF GREEN LIGHT AT THE REC
LASTIC ... fantastic - that’s the view of Gosforth official Mal Stokoe, who has just
stepped down from four years as the north-east club’s president. Stokoe was at the helm in the 2007/08 season when the Level 7 club broke new ground by playing competitive matches at their leased Druid Park home on an artificial, 3G surface.
Fast forward three years and
Premiership side Saracens have announced they are to do the same when they play matches at Copthall Stadium next season. While Saracens’ decision to play on an artificial surface will no doubt attract plenty of media attention, there will be none of the hoo-hah that Gosforth initially experienced. “It wasn’t easy for us to start off with at all, “Stokoe told me. “In the first year other clubs had the right to refuse to play on it. “Stockton were due to be our first opponents but they insisted we played on grass, which we did at a later date.
“I think seven clubs in total
refused to play in that first year. “But then the IRB came in and got rid of the opt-out by introducing Regulation 22.
“Druid Park is now the first
approved synthetic pitch that houses competitive rugby in the world!” The benefits are obvious - particularly in an area where the weather bites hard in the winter. “We’ve only had one game called
off in four seasons, and that’s when the pitch was under two feet of snow,” Stokoe added.
“The 3G pitch is nothing like the
astroturf pitches of old. “There’s not a great deal of
difference at all between the rubber- crumb surface and a grass one. “Sometimes the 3rd or 4th bounce of the ball dies a bit quicker on a 3G pitch, but the biggest advantage is that it acts exactly the same whether it is January or April.” While Preston, Oldham, QPR and Luton - the first football clubs to use plastic pitches back in the ‘80s enjoyed considerable home advantage, Stokoe says that’s not the case with Gosforth. “If
anything we probably get as many
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victories away from home, what you tend to find at this level is that if a side is better than you, they’ll beat you, whether it is on plastic or grass.”
The advantages don’t come cheap though. Saracens will be looking at anything up to £500,000 to install their new surface.
BATH CEO Nick Blofeld has put in a request to nearby resident and rock god Peter Gabriel to write and produce an anthem for the West Country team, in an attempt to improve the club’s match day atmosphere.
Gabriel owns a music studio in Box, five miles east of the City, and was approached by Blofeld after a chance meeting. Hopefully, for the sake of Bath supporters, the man responsible for such classics as ‘Solsbury Hill’, ‘Don’t Give Up’ and ‘Sledgehammer’ would, if persuaded to collaborate, come up with something better than ‘Stand up for the Saracens’. In a bid to make themselves more marketable, Bath are also considering the adoption of a nickname. ‘Romans’ is said to be the only serious contender, although what Bath F.C have to say about it remains to be seen, The Blues Square Conference club have long since been known by the moniker.
FINALLY, it’s great to see rugby clubs throughout the country doing their bit for the Poppy Appeal. England v Australia - the headline act this weekend is doing its bit with special commemorative shirts, while in the Championship, to name just one club, Bedford Blues are offering free entry to Goldington Road for the visit of Rotherham to any serving member of the armed forces or the emergency services.
HOOK SET FOR PERPIGNAN SWITCH
by JON NEWCOMBE & COLIN NEWBOULT
AMES HOOK is to head a multi- talented list of UK-based stars going to France this summer. Rugby Times understands that Hook, whose signature has been much-sought ever since he announced he would be leaving the Ospreys, is joining Perpignan.
J “It is all but a done deal,” an insider
from Wales revealed. Wales and Ospreys team-mate, full- back Lee Byrne, is set to follow him across the channel with a move to Clermont Auvergne.
But wonder wing Shane Williams is expected to stay in Wales after being offered an as yet unspecified ambassadorial role with the region. Sale’s out-of-contract star duo, fly- half Charlie Hodgson and Andrew Sheridan are also on the radar of French clubs after growing unsettled at the Sharks.
Both are on big money and Sale will
not be able to afford to offer them the same terms once contract talks get underway after the autumn internationals.
Northampton, though, could tempt Hodgson to stay in the Premiership. The Saints are expected to make enquiries at the turn of the year, and previously sounded him out about a possible move to Franklin’s Gardens a couple of years ago.
Meanwhile, Sale Sharks’ New Zealand-born flanker Chris Brightwell believes that fellow countrymen Shontayne Hape and Riki Flutey have every right to play for England. Both players have courted
controversy for deciding to opt for Martin Johnson’s side on the grounds of residency, but Brightwell doesn’t see that foreign-born players playing for an adopted country should pose a problem.
“Obviously, they’re going well,” he
told Rugby Times. “If their heart’s in the right place, if they fully commit to England and don’t just think it’s one of
those things, then why not? Brightwell has impressed many onlookers with some effervescent performances for the Sharks recently, since recovering from an injury sustained in pre-season. The back-rower himself is English qualified, via his mother, and played for the England Sevens team last season while he was with his old club Birmingham and Solihull. “Since my mother’s English and because I’ve been over a here quite a bit when I was younger as well, for Christmas’s and stuff, it doesn’t bother me. “The sevens thing came up and I just thought I would have a go. I had literally never played sevens until I came to England. “I’ve been here two years and I’d played a season with Birmingham and then coach Russell Earnshaw, who is coach of Birmingham, asked if I’d played sevens; I’d never had, so I entered a tournament in Manchester and we went well in that and won the tournament.”
by NEALE HARVEY
ATH Rugby’s bid to develop a 25,000 capacity stadium at The Rec is nearing a positive conclusion, according to the club’s chief executive Nick Blofeld. The future of English rugby’s most fought-over strip of land has been under discussion for well over a decade now, leading many Bath supporters to question whether the scheme to bring the club into the 21st century will ever get off the ground.
B Bath have fallen behind the likes of
Leicester, Toulouse and Munster, who have developed bigger and better stadia, but Blofeld this week revealed his increasing confidence that a resolution to the club’s long-running stadium saga is in sight. He told Rugby Times: “We’re making
good progress on the project and we’re gradually getting to the stage now where the two alternative sites we were looking at in conjunction with the council are looking less viable than actually staying at The Rec. “We’re working out our options for The Rec and we still need a plan B, but we’re quietly confident that we may get what we want and be allowed to stay. “There’s still a long way to go and
we’re in delicate negotiations with the Charity Commission, who I think conceptually would give us a slightly bigger footprint, but to do that we need to go to public consultation which will probably happen soon. “We’re looking at 25,000 and we’re
reasonably confident we could do that on The Rec. That’s the real challenge and it’s time to make a decision. “The public consultation should be commissioned in the next few weeks and that will last for eight weeks, so we’ll know if we’re able to progress to detailed planning in the early part of next year. There’s no guarantee, but we’re reasonably optimistic.” Bath’s urgent need for a new
stadium was graphically illustrated once again last Friday when around 12,000 supporters shoe-horned themselves into the ground in the pouring rain to watch their side’s 29-19 Anglo-Welsh Cup victory over the Cardiff Blues.
Those fans are amongst the most loyal in the country, but there are only so many soakings one can take and Bath will have no chance of competing alongside Europe’s elite in future unless their inadequate facilities are brought quickly up to date.
It is a point Blofeld accepts, adding: “Our supporters have asked about our objectives and we do look at the likes of Leicester locally and Toulouse on a European scale and those are the clubs we want to catch up with in many ways, both on and off the pitch. “Realistically we need to do that within the next two to three years.” Away from stadium issues Blofeld admits Bath have made a “stuttering start” to the season, but overall he is pleased with the impact new performance director Sir Ian McGeechan has had on the club since he joined in the summer.
And he dismissed any suggestion that the arrival of the legendary British & Irish Lions head coach may have clouded the lines of responsibility within the coaching staff, which had previously been led by head coach Steve Meehan.
Blofeld countered: “Steve is head coach, but Geech runs the overall (playing) department. I don’t think there is any confusion, that’s not an issue.
“Steve’s said before that instead of
having three selectors there are now four, and the fourth is a massively experienced person who can add a lot of weight to all of our conversations. “It’s been a stuttering start and we’ve had some flat spots, but we’ve had moments of great play too and I think it’s been going pretty well overall.
“It’s always good to have another set of eyes and ears and somebody with Geech’s experience is brilliant to have around as part of the team. “We’re now getting into frank discussions about our style of play – what’s working well and what needs working on – and really refocusing and getting back to basics.”
Meanwhile, Blofeld confirmed that
Bath remain supporters of Premiership Rugby’s salary cap despite suggestions that Bruce Craig, the club’s wealthy new owner, might be of a mind to join a small, but growing band of club owners who wish to see it scrapped. However, Blofeld believes the
current £4.2 million cap is probably in need of revision if the top English sides are to remain competitive in Europe. He explained: “We are supporters of some sort of salary cap because you don’t need a free-for-all. If you look at football, you can see how it can go mad. “But I think the salary cap probably needs to evolve and move on, it can’t stay at X level for three or four years because wages go up and you end up putting a squeeze on the size and quality of your squad, which makes it very hard to compete.
“The salary cap is a very difficult one to judge correctly, but I don’t think we want it to be held down by the lowest common denominator. “Leicester are turning over about
£16m whereas Newcastle are around £4m or £5m and we’re roughly in the middle, so I think we have to move with the times. “We’d like to see it going up, but not to ridiculous levels. You can’t just throw money at things but we want to be able to compete with the French. “Bruce has experience of what they do in France, where they link it more with turnover, and there may be some merit in that. But we need to have a frank conversation about it and it probably needs to move towards some sort of sliding scale.”
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