March Rugby Diary 2011

Laurence Gale MScin Rugby

The harsh winter weather should now be behind us, unless we live north of the border. The first signs of spring are definitely upon us with some great floral displays of snowdrops and crocuses being seen in most parts of the country. Soil and air temperatures are now rising into double figures, which should bring some encouragement for the grass to grow and begin its recovery.

Coupled with March drying winds, you will be surprised how quickly pitches begin to dry out and warm up.

The poor weather in February has certainly taken its toll on many pitches, with many clubs not only having games called off but having lost precious grass cover after play. This loss of fixtures will also have a detrimental effect when clubs have to play rearranged matches later on in the season.

Early in the Month 1st - 15th March

It is important to ensure your mowing equipment has been serviced and sharpened. There is nothing worse than cutting your grass with blunt mowing blades.

Carry out some aeration work to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants' root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil/water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches.

Keep up with the drag brushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.

If your budget allows, do some overseeding, particularly on the bare areas. This will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the coming spring and will give the new grasses longer to develop.

Later in the Month 16th March - onwards

Levels may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light topdressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start.

You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.

Key Tasks for March
Aeration / Brushing

Aeration: Frequency - when conditions allow - hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan. As last month, if there is opportunity to aerate, then do it. Regular winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.

Brushing/sweeping: Frequency - daily. To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.

Useful Information for Aeration / Brushing

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Harrowing / Fertilising / Disease
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Harrowing/raking: Frequency - when conditions allow. Use prior to and after matches; harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Fertiliser programme: Apply a fertiliser dressing, if required, on the basis of the results of a soil analysis. See Pitchcare shop for a range of fertiliser products.

Disease: Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease. Red thread is a common disease found on rye grass swards, an be prolific at this time of the year especially when the sward has been under stress and not been fed for for a while. Usually red thread will disappear, once the grass is fed and begins to grow.

Useful Information for Harrowing / Fertilising / Disease

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Drag Mats
Mowing / Divotting
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Mowing/cleaning up playing surface: Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches.

Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm. The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Divoting: Frequency - after games. Playing surfaces are becoming wetter, increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf, and gentle pressing with the foot, is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

Marking out

Marking out: Frequency - as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in March, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles.

There are a number of machines available for marking out lines, wheel to wheel, spray jet, dry liners and aerosol markers. The choice will be dependant on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use. Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.

Useful Information for Marking out

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Artificial Pitches
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A lot of rugby clubs are now installing artificial training pitches, some of the new 3/4 G type installations that have deep pile carpets with sand/ rubber infill materials. It is crucial these are maintained on a regular basis to keep them clean and keep infill materials well distributed.

It is important to keep them clean and encourage users to be mindful of their responsibilites to use litter bins and keep footware clean before playing / training on these surfaces. Regular brushing needs to be done at least weekly to keep the pile standing upright and infill materials well distributed.

Periodically the surfaces need to be cleaned with specialist machinery, there are a number of companies who can help; Technical Services and Sweepfast have been providing these services for a number of years.

Useful Information for Artificial Pitches

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Goal posts: Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Also ensure post pads are secure during matches.

  • Drainage: Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches that have primary/secondary sand bands/sand groove drainage systems are kept operational. During wet conditions these bypass systems often get capped over by surface soil thus reducing their efficiency. Regular spiking and annual sand dressing of the pitch will keep these drainage channels open and working.

  • Machinery: Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club /golf club.

    Rugby pitch maintenance courses are available from Pitchcare - our next courses are taking place in Surrey and Leicestershire - for more information visit

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