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Rugby Park to live up to its name . . .

KILMARNOCK football club have reaped the reward for their decision to invest heavily in a new plastic pitch when it was announced that they will be the first stadium to host a rugby Test match on an entirely artificial surface.

The decision, jointly announced at the club by Michael Johnston, Kilmarnock's chairman, and Dominic McKay, the Scottish Rugby Union's commercial director, was warmly welcomed by Bernard Lapasset, the chairman of the International Rugby Board, whose approval for the surface cleared the way for the match against Tonga on November 22 to be confirmed.

For Johnston, the match vindicates the decision to spend £500,000 on laying the plastic pitch over the summer to increase the capacity of the stadium to serve the local community not just as a football ground but for a wider variety of sports at all levels.

"It is something we have been looking at for a couple of years," he said. "The fact that we have this plastic pitch means that Rugby Park can become a seven-day operation for the football club including all of the training, all the matches, community projects, youth training and matches and we also support the Kilmarnock ladies' and girls' teams. We are going to use the pitch seven days a week and hope that rugby will be part of that."

For the SRU, the decision represents a chance to innovate, while it is both a recognition of the strength of rugby in Ayrshire and a chance to enthuse the local population by bringing a Test match to their doorsteps. Taking Tests round the country is a policy that has been in operation for a decade with previous November matches being taken to Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen as they try to spread the message to all parts of the nation.

"It has been under discussion for some months," said McKay. "Professional teams have played on artificial surfaces before at Saracens and Cardiff [Arms Park] and have loved it. It is great to be doing something that is a world first."

One player, however, who will not be there to try out the new surface is Matt Scott, the Edinburgh centre, who confirmed yesterday that he has had a second operation on a damaged shoulder and stands no chance of being fit before December. He had to have surgery after dislocating a shoulder in May and then decided to have corrective surgery on the other one to fix long-term problems.

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