Our wonderful sport of rugby will be in the spotlight this year, with thousands of people attending and supporting our four home International sides (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland) who will be competing in this years Rugby World Cup.
With major TV coverage, theres no doubt that there will be a lot of youngsters who will want to try and take up the game.
Therefore, I believe it is vitally important that all Rugby clubs are focused on attracting and retaining any new participants.
Many clubs are generally very well geared up for this, in terms of having a good youth infastructure/coaching set up to cater for these children. However, I am concerned that there are many clubs that let themselves down when it comes to the maintenance of their pitches. If we want to attract and retain these future players, we must offer them the ability to train and play on a decent playing surface, which more importantly is safe and fit for purpose.
I would like to see more clubs investing in their pitches in both time and money, Clubs should be getting advice on their pitches and then investing appropriately in machinery/resources to ensure they can get the best of what is one of the club's most valuable assetts, their pitches.
A well presented and well maintained pitch will not only help attract and retain new players, it will also help improve their playing ability and reduce injuries.
End of season renovations, ideally, should have been completed by now to make the most of the time you have left before the onset of the new season in late August.
The purpose of the renovations is to de-compact the pitch, increase the air space in the soil profile which will encourage root growth, restore levels by topdressing and re-populate the sward with new grasses and encourage the new sward with some timely feeds.
Then, it is a case of mowing on a regular basis, ideally weekly, to encourage the sward to tiller (thicken up) and increase in density. I see far too many clubs which only mow on a monthly frequency. It is simply not helping; you usually end up with a lot of top growth, sward remains weak and, when you do cut it, you are left with lots of grass clippings lying on top of the pitch, which is smothering the grass.
I cannot stress enough - invest in your pitch! It will then provide you with a good playing surface the following season. Once the seed has germinated, it is important to keep it watered. Irrigation is essential, many grounds are beginning to show signs of stress resulting from the lack of rain we have had in recent weeks. Try not to waste your water resources, keep an eye open for leaks, check the sprinklers are working properly. It is best to water during the evening to prevent excessive water loss from evaporation.
I hear too many clubs complaining they have no money or cannot afford to do the relevant maintenance work on their pitches.
Looking after a rugby pitch is not easy and needs a lot of planning, resources and, more importantly, knowledge. Clubs need to decide whether they carry out the work themselves, getting geared up with the appropriate equipment, or pay someone to come in and do the work. Whichever way, there is a cost involved.
So, my point is that clubs should recognise these costs and budget accordingly. In many cases, rugby clubs do not charge their players anywhere near enough subs to cover these costs. In a lot of cases, clubs are paying substantial amounts on players and coaches, with little left for the provision of pitch maintenance.
Clubs should charge an across the board grounds maintenance fee for all playing members, juniors included. One Euro a week from every member who uses the facilites will raise in excess of €150 per week at most clubs. That's €600 a month, €7200 a year - a considerable chunk of money to help maintain your pitches.
Add to that a couple of pig roasts/disco/bonfire events and you could be looking at bringing in around €10K a year
Mowing should be continued throughout the summer period, maintaining a cutting height of around 30-40mm to encourage the grass to tiller. Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out on a regular basis, often weekly or fortnightly. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.
Most groundstaff will be applying a summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something with higher nitrogen that will help maintain grass colour and vigour. A slow release fertiliser could be applied to see you through June, July and August. The choice of materials and how well they work will depend on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown seed or turf areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die. Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out.
It is important to ensure that the water gets down deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Soil sampling is an important part of groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:
* Particle Size Distribution (PSD): this will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate topdressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
* Soil pH: a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is a suitable level for most grass plants.
* Organic matter content: it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.
* Nutrient Levels: keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Ideally, it is good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and not waste money and time applying products you do not need.
However, the choice of materials and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
With the onset of warmer weather, there may be a need to keep an eye out for disease; temperature changes can bring on disease attacks, particularly when the turf is undernourished. Red thread can often be a threat to sports turf when the sward is in a stressed state. An application of a spring/summer fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.
With the onset of warmer weather, there may be a need to keep an eye out for disease; temperature changes can bring on disease attacks, particularly when the turf is undernourished. Red thread can often be a threat to sports turf when the sward is in a stressed state. An application of a spring fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.
As for broadleaf weed control, a timley application of a selective herbicide will help control any weeds; however, you may have to delay your application if you have newly germinated seed, it would then be best to apply mid to late August. Use an approved selective herbicide.
It is Important to look after your machinery and equipment, often you have invested a lot of money in mowers, tractors and marking machines. It is essential to keep them in good working condition and safe to use. Regular servicing, cleaning is an essential task that helps prolong the life of your equipment/ machinery.
Stock up with relevant materials, eg, line marking paint, fertiliser and seed, also ensure your line marking machines are clean and ready for use,
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.
Other Key Tasks
Inspect goal posts and ensure you replace any lost/damaged corner flags and post protectors.
Inspect your floodlights and get them tested for safety standards.
Service/clean your line marking equipment and order paint for the forthcoming season.