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Protecting Aviva Premiership Rugby

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Nigel Felton may not be a household name but the former professional cricketer is one of the many unsung heroes who play a massive role in Aviva Premiership Rugby.

Felton’s company, Sports and Stadia Services Ltd, is responsible for ensuring that the pitches for all 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs are protected and that no matches are called off due to the weather.

And as the season enters its coldest and wettest months, Felton is focused on being prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw at him.

“Last winter was our busiest ever in terms of the work we did for Aviva Premiership Rugby with 22 call-outs,” he said. “But that was the wettest winter on record for a long, long time.
 
“This winter has been a bit quieter, but there is no pattern and no two winters are the same. You never quite know what’s going to happen.
 
“I’m sure at some stage we’ll get some frost and a more normal winter. We might get some snow and if that happens we’ll be ready.
 
“We’ve only had one call so far this season and that was at Gloucester a few weeks ago before their Friday night game with Harlequins.
 
“There was an international friendly between USA and Tonga on the Saturday and the rainfall was looking a bit heavy, so we went over and covered the pitch to prevent it from being trashed on both days, and then being unplayable later in the season.

“We are always trying to get better at what we do. Now in Premiership Rugby all of the clubs have got permanent pitch protection fixings after we upgraded at Bath Rugby earlier this year.”

All 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs now employ the MacLeod cover – a huge pitch cover with a central inflatable tube which allows warm air to be blown underneath to protect a pitch from freezing or, in some circumstances, defrost the ground.

The system costs all 12 clubs a substantial sum but it repays the investment in terms of lack of postponements.
 
The six systems travel the country heading where they are most needed, being deployed under the management of Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby.
 
With no Aviva Premiership Rugby matches called off since 2010, Felton is proud of what his team have achieved in recent years.

He added: “It goes to show that as long as you’re ahead of the game and organised you can prevent cancellations in almost all conditions.

“Even at the likes of Saracens and Newcastle with their artificial grass pitches, snowfall is something that needs to be protected against.
 
“I don’t call artificial grass pitches all-weather because they’re not all-weather. We still work on to protect them against snow using our systems.

“The last game to be called off was four years ago at Newcastle Falcons, where due to the snow and ice we could not get our protection systems around the country very easily.

“But since then we have increased the number of systems we use with Aviva Premiership Rugby and, touch wood, have not had any problems.”
 

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