Advice for rugby turf professionals
by TurfPro Editor, Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR
Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR

Last week I thoroughly enjoyed attending the third of four RFU Honda Grounds Connected roadshows at Broadstreet RFC  - the other venues being Bristol Bears, London Irish and Manchester. 

All four roadshows were fully booked with over 60 plus rugby club groundsmen / volunteers attending each event. The aim was to promote the newly launched Honda Grounds Connected programme. 


Honda Grounds Connected 

With more than 3000 club rugby pitches across England and over 1300 volunteers signed up to Rugby Grounds Connected, Honda has become principal partner for the three-year programme that intends, among other features, to reward those keeping pitches playable nationwide.

The aim of the programme is that volunteers will be rewarded and recognised, with some invited to help Twickenham head groundsperson Jim Buttar on international match days. There will also be a new, year-round webinar and a number of face-to-face events across the country, with keynote speakers, machinery and demonstrations.


L-R: Laurence Gale MSc MBPR  and Jim Buttar 

The programme has the support of the GMA who now provide a number of regional pitch advisors to coordinate pitch inspections across the length and breadth of England. 

These advisors, along with a number of existing and newly recruited Voluntary pitch advisors, are now going out and visiting clubs on a regular basis, ascertaining the condition of these pitches and submitting the information to a national data base.

The aim of the programme is to help clubs improve the quality of their pitches. Organisers of the scheme say effectively, if you maintain your pitch much better, you are likely to get another match a week. There's science behind that, and if someone's got a poor maintenance programme and moves it to good, or good to excellent, you're going to get another match a week. If you take that across 1000 clubs, each club having four pitches, you get to a large number, you get to 40,000 or 50,000 more matches or training sessions a year.

A spin off of the pitch advisory service is that there will be added resources made available in the form of training courses, machinery and product promotions and finally there will be eventually will be a phone app that will not only provide essential information, but will have the ability to monitor and record the condition of club facilities in real time. 


Broadstreet RFC

Organisers believe the Honda partnership is a huge step forward and, combined with the Grounds Management Association partnership, will have a positive impact after the recent challenging time for the sport.


Broadstreet RFC is situated in the heart of the midlands and has been selected as one of two Rugby Sevens training venues for this year’s commonwealth games in Birmingham.

The facilities at the club are excellent and they have four World Rugby standard pitches as well as changing areas and large internal spaces for teams to utilise before or after training'.


Adam Blackford's welcoming introduction 

I arrived for the start of the day’s programme with a welcome and introduction by Adam Blackford RFU Facility Development Executive (Midlands) who explained the proceedings of the day. Essentially the day evolved around a talk from Jim Buttar followed by the chance for the attendees to talk to the day’s RFU partners who were demonstrating their wares and services.


Jim Buttar's presentation on his role of HG at Twickenham 

Roger Moore and Ben Lloyd were on hand to show delegates the range of Dennis and SISIS equipment available for rugby clubs. Their Quadraply and outfield slitter have become a popular and essential tool for maintaining rugby pitches. 


SISIS Quadraplay on an Iseki Compact tractor

Iseki UK & Ireland were represented by Alan Prickett, business development manager, who was on hand to demonstrate the range of compact tractors that are available for rugby clubs. 

Gary Cunningham was representing Mansfield Sands who have supplied a number of top dressing products for rugby clubs for many years.



Gary from Mansfield Sands 

Representatives from Origin were on hand to talk about the ranges of consumable products available for clubs (seed, fertilisers, line markers and soil conditioners). They also had on demonstration their robotic line marking machine.



Team Origin 

The Tiny Mobile robot line marking machine  can mark out a single rugby pitch in 30 minutes and uses GPS technology to ensure lines are accurate and straight. A lot of clubs and contractors are buying them and able to earn additional income from hiring out to others sports clubs. It sounds a lot of money to buy at around £13,000, but has proved to be invaluable in allowing other work to be done whilst going about its task of marking out your pitch. 


Tiny Mobile robotic line market from Origin 

Also in attendance was the RFU main sponsor Honda who had a range of pedestrian mowers, strimmers and battery powered products to see. 


Honda mower

Other partners on show were Duralock and Wessex International along with Phil Woodward and Parkways Contractors who spoke to delegates about end of season renovations and what equipment is available for hire. With climate change high on our agend , this year has been a real challenge for clubs who have been faced with renovating their pitches during the hot, dry weather.


RFU expert panel 

Very difficult if you have no method of watering your pitches, the issue of irrigation needs was brought up in the earlier Q&A session when the delegates asked the panel of RFU pitch advisors for some advice on this subject. Jim and Phil Woodward gave some advice on the choice and methods of irrigation systems available for clubs. If you do not have the ability to water they said, then you need a new strategy when reseeding pitches. Rather than wait until the end of the season, why not reseed when ground conditions and weather are more favourable, when there is enough moisture in soil? This tends to be in the autumn and earlier in the spring when soil and air temperatures can be still favourable for seed germination. Jim stated he has resown his pitch several times during the year.


L-R: Ian Somerville MSc and Todd Harrison 

Finally I managed to catch up with two of the GMA Rugby Pitch Advisors. Ian Somerville (North) and Todd Harrison (Midlands) to talk trough the pitch inspection process. 

Clubs can ask for a free pitch inspection. This involves a visit from a pitch advisor who conducts a number pitch assessments that include soil samples, thatch levels, weed content, grass height and percentage cover, compaction and levels. They also ask what level of maintenance is being done and note what machinery the club have - with the report acting as starting point to the improvement of the club pitches.  



Broadstreet RFC groundstaff seeking advice from GMA Pitch Advisors 

All in all, it was a productive and informative day for all who attended. I also had the opportunity to invite myself to a day out at Twickenham after finally meeting up with Jim Buttar!

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