Saracens’ stadium shows there’s no place like home

 
John Inverdale

FOR all the excitement of the Six Nations and the anticipation of what might happen when the French arrive at Twickenham this coming Saturday, an even more significant event for rugby union took place over the weekend when Saracens played their opening home league match on the new artificial pitch in Barnet.

It was important for two reasons. Not just because it points towards an era when surely all top level matches will be played on similar surfaces.

But even more crucially because Saracens fans finally felt as though they were watching a match at their own rugby ground. Ground-sharing with football clubs is a thorny issue, but those of you that have visited leading rugby sides will attest that the day is infinitely more pleasurable when you are not in a stadium five times too big.

Watching Saracens play at Watford’s Vicarage Road became one of the most dispiriting experiences you could have as a spectator – a tenant in a dilapidated stadium that had no sense of empathy with the sport you had gone to see.

The gates that London Irish are attracting means a trip to Reading is becoming less attractive by the day. Wasps find themselves caught in a no man’s land at High Wycombe, and London Welsh will struggle to make Oxford’s Kassam Stadium feel like a rugby ground.

Professional rugby union is nearly 18 years old. It’s grown up. Which is why no side should be allowed to enter the Premiership unless it has its own ground capable of staging top level games. By the time it reaches its 21st birthday, surely every top flight side should be expected to have the key to their own door.