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Are artificial rugby pitches dangerous? The big questions answered amid series of injuries and burns; As well as the Scarlets players' burns, there have been a number of serious injuries on artificial pitches recently.

Byline: Ben James

The old chestnut of 3G pitches and rugby injuries raised its head again this week after a number of Scarlets players suffered burns against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.

Steff Evans and Johnny McNicholl have spoken out about the state of the Scottish outfit's pitch,with the latter saying he felt the pitch "should be illegal."

However, this is just one incident in a long line of controversies surrounding 3G pitches - so just what is a 3G pitch and how safe are they?

What is a 3G pitch?

3G (third generation) pitches came in to replace the old sand-based 2G pitches at the turn of the millennium.

Companies sometimes market their pitches as '4G' or even '5G', but they do not exist - meaning the 3G pitch in use at Scotstoun and other rugby grounds like Pontypridd's Sardis Road, Cardiff Arms Park and Saracens' Allianz Park is the best available at the moment.

The longer strands of artificial grass give it a more natural appearance and feel and it's usually fitted with a drainage system and underlying shock-absorbing surface.

The pitches became very popular for five aside football before coming into wider use in 11-aside soccer and rugby. Scottish Premiership sides Kilmarnock and Hamilton have recently installed 3G pitches, though Football League regulations have prohibited them.

3G pitches usually cost around [pounds sterling]500,000 to install.

What do the pitches look like?

A normal feature of a 3G pitch is the 'rubber crumb', thousands of black rubber pellets scattered on the green surface.

The rubber is usually made from recycled tyres and helps replicate the characteristics of grass, cushioning players' falls.

James Dooley of Soft Surfaces Limited explained why the black rubber bits are used, instead of the sand used on 2G surfaces.

He "These rubber infill particles help to keep the fake grass fibres upright and replicate natural playing characteristics of real grass. The rubber crumb can also help to cushion players' muscles and joints during training and matches to prevent injury and strain.

"It's important to keep a 3G fake grass pitch in top condition by regularly redistributing the rubber infill and topping it up if it becomes low, this will maintain good playing qualities and prevent the turf from becoming slippery."

Have there been many high-profile injuries?

This isn't the first time that artificial surfaces have come under fire.

Pontypridd's Sardis Road surface was investigated last seasonafter Merthyr players complained of burns and cuts.

AndScarlets coach Wayne Pivac himself has also raised concerns about injuries suffered by his players at the Arms Park.

It isn't just burns either, with the Scarlets' John Barclay, Wasps Jack Willis and Pau's Steffon Armitage each being ruled out for the best part of the year after sustaining substantial ligament and Achilles injuries on artificial pitches in the past month alone.

The Aviva Premiership's latest annual injury audit saw a spike in the amount of injuries suffered on artificial pitches.

It has been suggested that most of these injuries, particularly the likes of John Barclay's occur due to 3G pitches' nature and their grip, with players getting their feet caught when trying to change direction, with the long studs of rugby boots more likely to get caught.

So are 3G pitches safe?

Naturally, many have raised issues complaining that artificial pitches cause injury. But in 2013, theJournal of Sports Medicinepublished a study looking at 1.5 million hours of training and matches on 3G pitches.

It's widely believed 3G is much safer than its artificial turf predecessors. Many of the injuries initially sustained were joint-related rather than the burns suffered by the Scarlets.

The study said there was: "no evidence that playing matches or training on artificial turf raises the risk of soccer players sustaining injury. In fact, the evidence suggests that the risk of some injuries and some subgroups might be lowered."

So the danger comes when the rubber particles aren't 'topped up' -- then the surface is less cushioned and more slippy.

Another study, by Fuller Et Al in 2010, concluded that "there were no clear differences in the incidence, severity or injury burden of injuries between matches played on artificial and grass surfaces."

Another concern has been whether the rubber crumbs themselves are safe. But the US Environmental Agency, among others, has concluded the rubber isn't harmful whatsoever.

The latest Welsh rugby news

Are 3G pitches fit to play rugby on then?

To be passed fit to host a rugby match, an artificial pitch must have an up-to-date certificate that demonstrates compliance with World Rugby rules.

World Rugby Regulation 22 is the law that says every pitch must pass tests to ensure there are no problems with energy-sapping, head impact, skin friction or joints damage.

RFU guidelines on artificial pitches say: "There is no way to tell if an AGP (artificial grass pitch) is suitable for contact rugby union simply by looking at it."


Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

The pitch at Scotstoun

Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

John Barclay of Scarlets goes down injured
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 22, 2018
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