We are now well into our winter games season with many playing facilities at football and rugby clubs, as well as schools, at the mercy of the weather. At this time of the year it is essential we ensure our winter games pitches are maintained to retain as much grass cover as possible.
With three tough months to get through, it is important to carry out the right maintenance regimes to keep the pitch functional and safe for play. November is usually a good time to carry out some deep aeration work using either a solid tine verti-drain type machine or a linear blade aerator.
In recent years we have also seen our industry embrace the acquisition of some compressed air tine aerators that combine a physical tine insertion with a blast of air. Campeys AirG2 machine has become a popular method of aerating pitches.
Timing of this work will be critical; you need to be able to get on your pitches without making a mess. In most cases, if the appropriate annual maintenance regimes have taken place throughout the year the pitch is more likely to be able to cope with the rigours the winter weather may throw at you.
The recent Rugby World Cup in Japan brought us some very memorable moments to cherish, particularly with the style of rugby played by the hosts as well as countries from both the northern and southern hemispheres.
As an England fan, after beating the All Blacks I was looking forward to the final with confidence that England only needed to play half as well and they could be World Champions. However, it was not to be. After a terrible first half, giving away a lot of possession and penalties, they had a tough hill to climb in the second.
On the day, South Africa played the best rugby and deservedly won. As always, these global sporting events do have an impact on the game and no doubt in the coming years we will see plenty of clubs benefiting from new players joining their teams.
Recently I attended an RFU Rugby Groundsman Connected seminar at Hinkley RFC where both Keith Kent, ex-Twickenham groundsman and Ed Mowe, current Leicester head groundsman, were on hand to give advice on winter maintenance of rugby pitches.
This seminar was the twelfth club Keith had visited as part of his Rugby Connect programme. Over 40 local club groundsmen took the opportunity to attend the evenings meeting, which began with an introduction to the evening by Pete Shaw, RFU area facilities manager.
Pete spoke about the interesting findings of a recent Leicestershire grounds survey, that was participated in by the following clubs - Leics Forest; Hinckley Market; Harborough; Coalville; Loughborough; Sileby Town; Quorn; Ashby; South Leicester; Lutterworth; Shepshed; Syston & Belgrave.
The survey highlighted some key facts about these clubs and some areas they interested in finding more information about :-
- Over 60% of clubs do not possess equipment. 30% do own a tractor.
- £3,780 is their average maintenance budget.
- 43% of clubs do not have a registered RGC member
- They would like more info on Training; End of & in-season maintenance; Funding; Planning.
- 55% would like a Pitch Advisor visit or more information.
It would seem from the survey that most clubs are seeking advice and information on what funding resources are currently available along with gaining appropriate advice on pitch maintenance regimes and costs.
Keith as usual spoke passionately about his role and the importance of clubs to invest in the maintenance of their pitches, particularly paying attention to damage that can be caused by the lack of appropriate maintenance and not having the right equipment and machinery to do be able to undertake this work.
Keith also spoke highly about the current sponsors / partners the RFU are working with to help deliver the RFU Groundsmen Connect Programme (Dennis / SISIS, Iseki, Wessex International, Rigby Taylor, Mansfield Sands, Ransomes Jacobsen and local sports turf contractors, Woodward Turf Care) whose representatives were also on hand to give advice and information on the night.
Once Keith had spoken, it was time to go outside and see some machinery demonstrations out on the floodlit pitch. However, we were restricted to what could be demonstrated due to the condition of the pitch. Like most parts of the country, there were reports of over 12 inches of rain having fallen in the East Midlands during the last month.
This recent spell of poor weather will certainly have had a detrimental effect on many winter sports pitches. With many pitches now saturated, they can easily be damaged if they are not maintained appropriately or played and trained on in the wrong conditions. This can result in a loss of valuable grass cover. Pitch inspections before games are essential with the clubs liaising with match referees to decide on whether the fixtures should be played or not.
As for the demonstrations, Keith spoke about the benefits of the SISIS Quadraplay and the use of the compact Iseki Tractors and Sisis Outfield Spiker. Local Contracto,r Phil Woodward, spoke about the differences of using both the Vertidrain and Inmants roto knife.
After the demonstrations we then had an interesting insight into the work being carried out at Leicester Tigers, with Ed Mowe talking about what he and his staff had achieved since his appointment in 2017.
In short, this was getting the club to invest in new ways of working, building up relations with coaching and playing staff and investing in new equipment. In the limited time Ed has been there, he has certainly improved the aesthetics and performance of the playing surfaces at Welford Road and their training ground. An interesting video below details the work ED instigated at the end of last season to renovate the pitch and is well worth a view.
We then had a final Q&A session with members of the audience asking a number of questions that were answered by Keith, Ed and attending sponsors and pitch advisors.
The concluding message is that we need to share information and without doubt there is a need for clubs to invest in their pitches. At the same time they must ensure that they have a plan in place and the appropriate resources and funding to facilitate this necessary work.
Of course there will always be a cost for this work - whether you do it yourself, with volunteers or employ a groundsmen or contractor. Many rugby clubs have ex-players who, if approached, may be interested in helping. However, they will not want to carry out the job if it is seen as a chore or if the club does not have the appropriate machinery, resources and equipment to do the job efficiently.
The RFU have for several years implemented a support programme called Rugby Groundsmen Connected under the guidance of Keith.
Rugby Groundsmen Connected (RGC) is the RFU’s easy access, two-way communication network between the RFU and rugby union groundsmen. It is the main communication channel for the RFU to provide information and advice to groundsmen and has special offers and exclusive benefits for members. Everything the RFU does related to pitch maintenance now comes under the banner of Rugby Groundsmen Connected.
Groundsmen Connected is for anybody that has any involvement in the upkeep of rugby pitches; from the complete novice to Premiership groundsmen. Anyone can register to join RGC at no cost. Once signed up turf professionals will receive regular communications with advice, information and the opportunity to ask questions.
RGC now has well over 1,000 groundsmen registered and Keith has been very supportive of the scheme and has himself visited many clubs up and down the country to pass on his advice.
The RFU do offer, under the Rugby Groundsmen Connected scheme a Keith Kent Maintenance Package that consists of an Iseki Compact Tractor, SISIS Qudraplay unit, Wessex Roller Mower and SISIS Multitiner that would enable clubs to look after their pitches more professionally.
One of the most popular pitch management tools is the SISIS Quadraplay. The implement’s combination of frames makes up a single pass maintenance system which incorporates a mounted frame. The mounted frame accepts a variety of different implements for use on both turf and hard porous surfaces. Implements such as grooming rakes, spikers, slitters, rollers and brushes can be added to the frame, making this an exceptionally versatile piece of equipment. It can be used for fine and outfield turf to perform a range of tasks so effectively that you can aerate, brush, spring tine and roll in one pass.
Using these frames before and after matches helps keep the pitch in good condition and, above all, the spiker ensures the pitch is regularly aerated. In essence, maintaining natural grass pitches is all about supporting and promoting good grass growth throughout the year.
Personally, I believe buying your own equipment and building up a dedicated grounds team who can share and carry out the basic maintenance tasks is a better way to go. Yes, there is the initial cost of the equipment and a need to have a storage facility nearby. However, the benefits of doing the work yourself is not only satisfying, but you are in control of the performance and aesthetics of your ground. As for funding and getting enough money to undertake your own maintenance work, Keith and I have being saying for years that everybody (adults and youth sectors) who set foot on the clubs’ pitches (training and playing) should contribute £1 a week towards the maintenance costs. For most clubs that would equate to well over £250 per week, £1,000 per month, £9,000 for 9 months. If you were to invest that into your pitches you would have some decent surfaces.
Finally, there is no doubt that the recent success of the Rugby World Cup will have generated a lot of interest in people taking up the sport. It is now down to the clubs to embrace this and continue to provide the facilities and playing surfaces to accommodate this new surge of interest.