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Protecting Aviva Premiership Rugby

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The likes of Telusa Veainu, Gareth Steenson, and Elliot Daly may be the ones lighting up Aviva Premiership Rugby at the moment, but without unsung hero Nigel Felton the winter months would be a lot sparser in terms of action.

The former professional cricketer'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.

During the wettest winter on record in 2013/14, Felton and his team ensured not one Aviva Premiership Rugby fixture was called off, but despite a warmer winter last year Felton has not taken his finger off the pulse.

And with this season entering its coldest months after a hugely wet December, Felton is focused on being prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw at him, with Gloucester Rugby on the agenda this week.

“We're putting our system in at Gloucester this week as it rained so much during their game last weekend,” he said.

“That didn't do their pitch the power of good, and given they have had the Rugby World Cup there too they have had a lot of traffic on it so far this year.

“The surface was quite badly torn up last week in the London Irish game, and any more rain could threaten next weekend’s fixture and the quality of the surface in the weeks after that.

“No-one really knows what the weather is going to do, but the bottom line for this year so far is that it has been worst up in the north-west.

“The weather down south has been challenging too, and in the last couple of days I have been to look at Gloucester Rugby, Worcester Warriors, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers – and I'll be popping down to Harlequins too.

“It's all about staying on top of things over the next month, but once the ground becomes saturated and simply can’t take any more water, we may have to cover a few pitches and get some warm air on them to dry them out.”

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.

And with no Aviva Premiership Rugby matches called off in almost six years, Felton is not resting on his laurels but continuing to upgrade and improve.

He added: "We're improving our service all the time, and we've got new fan heater-burners that are improving our air-flow which is key.

"Temperature of the pitch is of course important, but it's really all about creating air flow under the cover, and our new equipment has increased the velocity by 15 per cent.

"We're not being complacent at all and trying to move the operation forward, and investing in newer systems all the time.

"Of course I'm happy with how long we have avoided postponements so far but I just want to keep it that way.

"The key thing is just to make sure you're ahead of the weather, prejudging what is going to happen with the forecast and making sure you give priority to the right places before you hit a critical stage."

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