Undersoil heating no match for the snow

There is unlikely to be much domestic rugby played in Scotland this weekend, with matches in Edinburgh and the Borders already toppling yesterday and even the undersoil heating at Gala's Netherdale pitch unable to provide a solution.

Heriot's match with Dundee HSFP at Goldenacre was called off yesterday and Hawick's game at home to Boroughmuir, also in the Premier A competition, is off, while Selkirk's match with West of Scotland and the big Borders clash between Gala and Peebles, which could go a long way to deciding which of those sides, if either, win promotion to the top flight, are also postponed.

Gala's heating was installed when the Border Reivers professional team used Netherdale as its home and, after a protracted legal battle with the SRU, the club agreed to keep the facility. Gala are now solely responsible for its upkeep, with the SRU contributing funding help when it is used for Scotland 'A' matches. However, Gala President Colin Playfair revealed yesterday that efforts to make the pitch playable during last year's snowfalls had caused extensive damage and they were taking a different approach this time.

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"There is currently 18 inches of snow on the pitch and more forecast for tonight and tomorrow," he said. "If we put the heating on now it would just flood the pitch. We've learned a lot in recent years about the management of the pitch and how undersoil heating is not the answer to all problems, unfortunately.

"We also found last year that scraping snow off the pitch to get it playable for the return of the South of Scotland and their game with Northumberland actually caused a lot of damage to the surface, so we're not going to be silly this year.

"The surface is a top-quality grass and it doesn't take kindly to rough treatment and that means we have to be more careful for the long-term."

That has only placed in doubt Melrose's opening match in the British and Irish Cup, at home to Munster, which Gala had agreed to host at Netherdale on Saturday week, as well as the South's now-annual match with Northumberland, due to be played on 29 December.

In England, Newcastle Falcons have been forced to postpone tomorrow night's Aviva Premiership clash with Bath at Kingston Park. But the weekend's other fixtures are currently expected to go ahead. A Premiership Rugby statement read: "Premiership Rugby has invested significantly in pitch protection, but with more snow overnight in Newcastle, in addition to concerns about the pitch, there is now significant concern about the safety of the spectator areas.

"With an additional five centimetres of snow forecast for Newcastle this evening, an early postponement was considered the best option.Having looked at the weather forecast and with pitch protection systems in place at the other grounds, further postponements (for matches at Headingley Carnegie, Edgeley Park, the Madejski Stadium, Vicarage Road and Adams Park] are not anticipated."

Despite that confidence, Sale have appealed for fans to help clear the Edgeley Park playing surface ahead of their clash with Gloucester tomorrow night.