Premiership beating winter weather
Gone are the days the Premiership had to navigate the perils of the British weather, thanks to the continued success of its MacLeod pitch-covering system.
With the mercury hitting single figures, pitches across the country are subject to freezing but a partnership between the Premiership and Sports and Stadia Services, now six years old, has nullified that threat.
All 12 Premiership clubs now employ the MacLeod cover – a huge pitch cover with a central inflatable tube which allows warm air to be blown underneath to protect a pitch from freezing or, in some circumstances, defrost the ground.
The system costs all 12 clubs a substantial sum but it delivers in terms of postponements, or rather a lack of them, and ensures that the system repays the money.
The six systems travel the country, being deployed under the management of Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, heading where they are most needed.
"We are very proud of our record when it comes to the lack of postponements in recent years," said Winstanley.
"The record comes on the back of a lot of planning and hard work and financial investment, but it is crucial we operate the system on behalf of our clubs and take the guesswork out of whether games are on or not.
"Whichever month the cold weather comes one thing is for certain is that it will come…and we have to be ready."
"The season is so packed already we couldn't afford for too many games to be called off, force us into the scheduling of midweek games and, in turn, impact on the competition integrity and player welfare. In addition, each postponed game comes with a huge hit to the home side's revenue."
Evidence of its effectiveness can be found in the Premiership's impeccable record of matchday cancellations – or a lack of.
Nigel Felton, owner of Sports and Stadia Services, has to cast his mind back to the notorious winter of 2010 for an occasion where the weather won.
And though this winter has not been as harsh as recent years, Felton knows full well that the great British weather is far from reliable.
"The last three winters have been some of the worst winters we have had for some time," he said. "We have had more snow and cold weather in recent winters than we have had for years.
"We lost one match three years ago up at Newcastle Falcons – that dreadful winter. By the time we got up to Newcastle the pitch was already frozen and full of snow.
"Thus far it has been quiet but the pattern is there is no pattern, so you never know what's going to happen."
Clubs are informed on whether the system will be required by Felton, who will make a recommendation based on a seven-day weather forecast which is then revisited daily so that changes to the forecast can be more easily planned for.
Navigating the conditions is nothing new for the 53-year-old, who racked up 211 first-class appearances in his former career as a professional cricketer.
And the ex-Northamptonshire and Somerset batsman is branching out beyond both cricket and rugby, as the success of the MacLeod covers continues to grow.
"The system provides protection against rain, ice and snow. The great thing about our system is that if it snows you can let it land on the cover and then just slide it off," he added.
"I am very pleased to be working for Premiership Rugby. We also provide the system for the FA cup, for the live televised matches, and we also provide it to Pennyhill Park, for the England team."