The Aviva Premiership Rugby action has been coming thick and fast over the Christmas and New Year period, but one man insists he is just as busy behind the scenes to ensure that Mother Nature doesn’t spoil the fun.
Former professional cricketer Nigel Felton and his 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 while Saracens are going for a third-straight Aviva Premiership Rugby title, Felton can boast an even more impressive record with the last league game called off due to weather happening back in late 2009.
But while it has been nearly seven years without a postponement, and with the next set of matches not looking like being in any danger of breaking that impressive run, Felton insists there is still plenty of work being put in behind the scenes.
“You never know what could happen,” he said. “The pattern is that there is no pattern!
“We have been quite lucky as the games have been forecasted for when the weather has been quite good. If we had games scheduled for the last few days when there has been a fair bit of frost then we might have had to do a bit more and got the frost covers out.
“We gave all the clubs the forecast on Tuesday and the previous Friday so everyone is aware of what is coming and these New Years games look like being OK.
“But we will make sure we are ready still. All of my lads are itching to do something and are ready to go, but if it does then you just know it will be three or four at once.
“But we have some big games coming up at Bath Rugby on New Year’s Eve as they host Exeter, and then as Leicester Tigers host Saracens the following day and the forecast is seven degrees with a maximum of nine degrees so we should be good for some great games of Aviva Premiership Rugby.
“And we are no less busy as we are doing all the prep to be ready to go should we be needed.”
The game between Sale Sharks and Wasps that was called off due to a waterlogged pitch – the last Aviva Premiership Rugby clash to fall foul of the weather – happened such a long time ago in December 2009 that Felton struggles to remember it.
But his proudest moment certainly sticks in the memory, getting a game on as Ulster visited Bath Rugby almost exactly a year later with the whole of Somerset beset by snow.
“The last postponement was that long ago that I can’t remember it, but my proudest moment so far was definitely the Bath v Ulster game in Europe,” Felton added.
“The whole of Bath was white with snow and the only bit of green anywhere was the pitch!
“People were saying that they weren’t going to go to the game because of the snow and that it would definitely be called off but we managed to get the game on and it was a great effort.
“It would have made a great aerial picture too – the whole of Bath was white except for a little bit of green in the middle which was the pitch.”
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.