Adapting to artificial pitches for South African teams is crucial, says Jake White, as they become a more common feature in European cup competitions.
All four SA franchises are currently on tour overseas in the 2023-24 Vodacom URC, and White this week emphasised the challenges of playing on these pitches after the Vodacom Bulls lost their first game on a 3G turf against Ulster in Belfast.
On Friday night, the DHL Stormers lost their opening game 20-9 to the Glasgow Warriors at the Scotstoun Stadium, while the Sharks suffered a third straight defeat after going down 19-5 to Ospreys in London.
The Bulls are set to encounter Cardiff and Edinburgh on 4G surfaces, and speaking ahead of Saturday’s clash at Zebre Parma, White addressed the variations in surfaces, and overcoming diverse conditions.
“It’s a grass pitch [against Zebre] which is more like we’re used to but in saying that, we’ve got a hybrid pitch [at Loftus Versveld] now so we’re in the middle of both,” the Bulls director of rugby told reporters.
“So it’s not just the wind and the rain and the home crowds, it’s adapting to the field surface that you play on as well. A lot of guys felt really sore on Sunday post the [Ulster] game because the field is so different.
“Running on it, falling on it, tackling on it, so it’s something we’re going to have to get used to because we’re playing in this competition every year and we’re playing on these sorts of fields.
“We’re playing Cardiff next week on a 4G pitch, we’re going to play Edinburgh on a 4G pitch; the variation of the pitch and playing on different surfaces, weather, stadiums is something we’re going to have to get used to – and not just us, I suppose all SA sides have to adapt to.
“And let’s not forget it’s very different to go play at Loftus for these teams in the middle of summer. So it’s not just one-sided, it’s for everybody.”
Stormers captain and tighthead prop, Neethling Fouche, echoed White’s sentiments before the Capetonians’ defeat to Glasgow on a 4G pitch.
Fouche explained the unique sensations of scrumming on 4G, describing it as feeling like they were “on top of the field” and noted the increased pace of the game.
However, he added, with more exposure to 4G pitches SA teams would adapt to the increased pace.
“It’s a different ball game getting used to the 4Gs, because scrumming time it’s a different sensation,” Fouche said. “Whereas in SA you can actually feel the ground [underfoot] for some traction, this 4G pitches is weird, it’s like you’re on top of the field.
“It’s very quick, even for us props you feel quick running around! The scrumming is a bit of a challenge – there was a game last season where two of my studs [came out] and that’s not a situation that you want, having to get new boots on.
“Generally, the more we play on it, the more we get used to the pace of it, but it’s hard to stop momentum once [a team] has momentum on a 4G pitch.”