It could be a foretaste of the future when Glasgow Warriors take on Racing 92 on the artificial surface at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park this afternoon.
Though the game is realistically about nothing other than pride, it will give the fans the chance to see how the team performs on plastic. If Gregor Townsend, the head coach, gets his way, that is exactly what they will be using next season.
The fact that the game is being played in Kilmarnock in the first place gives a hint of the issue. Scotstoun, Glasgow’s home ground, is a sea of mud and has been unplayable since the storms around Christmas and the New Year. This is the second match they have had to move, and even when it is playable, the soggy pitch there makes it tough for Townsend’s teams to play the style of rugby he aspires to during the dead of winter.
So an artificial surface such as the one at Kilmarnock is the obvious answer and negotiations with Glasgow Life, who own the ground, have been started, with Townsend, pictured, hoping the work can be done over the summer, in time for the start of next season.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “If it is going to happen by next season I will be most pleased. Our players are very keen to have a pitch that suits our strengths and also is good quality throughout the year. I know there have been meetings – we are targeting next season as the time we get on to that surface.
“When we play against Cardiff [the only Guinness Pro12 team with an artificial pitch], they are always the games with the highest ball-in-play time. It shows that both teams playing on that surface tend to keep the ball and play more. It is quicker and players don’t go down to deck so much, they play more with the ball off the ground. It is consistent so even if it is raining, it is going to be a solid surface. We love it.”
Whether it is enough to swing the balance against Racing 92, who claimed a try bonus point when the sides played a fortnight ago, is harder to say. The French club, who have already qualified for the quarter-finals, have elected to rest a number of their leading players, including Dan Carter, the World Player of the Year, but are still bringing a side with the kind of experience and power that most clubs can only envy.
There is a remote chance that a win and scoring bonus point might take Glasgow through to the knockout stage – they need a lot of improbable results to achieve that goal – but with 14 players on the injury list, it is pretty much a case of last man standing as Townsend puts together an adventurous team for the game.
Leone Nakarawa, the Fijian lock, has a chance to demonstrate his offloading skills form No 8, while Taqele Naiyaravoro and Tommy Seymour are both recalled on the wings. For Seymour, in particular, it is perfect timing with the RBS Six Nations Championship just a fortnight away, giving him the chance to show he is back not only to full fitness but also to his best form.
“The injury has been grumbling since the World Cup,” he revealed. “I was playing with it and it was fine, but the power was decreased according to the diagnosis. It was getting worse and worse and causing a few issues for me. We thought it was something else, but we got a scan and realised it was something different. Now I’m back and feeling good.
“You can’t blame the leg for form. It was a hamstring so it affected power and confidence, but that’s not an excuse. I would like to have been playing better. At this club, every individual holds high standards, and I do as well. That’s why I’m looking forward to this weekend. It’s an opportunity to go out and play well. All the lads and the supporters deserve good performances, and that’s what I’ll try to do.”