It's been a couple of years since I last visited Worcester Warriors and, after finding out that their Head Groundsman, Derek Woodall, had retired, I thought it would be good idea to meet up with the club's new man, Martin 'Knighty' Knight.
Martin was Derek's assistant for twelve years, so fully understands the pressures the job will throw at him. However, to compound matters, the Warriors were relegated from the Premiership last season and now have a new head coach in Richard Hill, one of the most highly qualified, driven and talented coaches in the English game.
Richard boasts a fantastic record in club and international rugby. The vastly experienced former Bath and England scrum-half, signed a two-year deal with Warriors in June 2010. His remit is to get the club back into the Premiership as soon as possible, and this will, no doubt, put the playing surface under intense scrutiny.
The stadium pitch was upgraded from an old soil based pitch in 2006, turning it into a fibresand ameliorated rootzone pitch. J. Pugh-Lewis Ltd. undertook the contract. After checking the drainage was functioning properly, they laid new fibresand. Six hundred tonnes of sand and rootzone were spread, including over 400 tonnes of fibresand concentrate. This work was carried out by Premier Pitches.
Since then, the pitch has performed very well, with no games being lost to flooding. Martin enlists the help of local sports turf contractors, Phil Day Sports, to undertake end of season renovations to the stadium pitch and other nominated pitches.
In addition to the stadium pitch, Martin and his assistant, Richard Bush, have seventeen rugby pitches to maintain on a daily basis. The club run twenty-one teams, who all play and train at the Sixways complex throughout the week.
In recent years, the club have had a number of new pitches constructed to provide better playing surfaces for the 1st team and academy teams to play on. One of the latest is their new first team training pitch adjacent the stadium, which is near to completion.
With so many pitches to maintain, Martin's priorities lie primarily with the stadium, academy and senior club pitches. The stadium pitch is maintained at a height of 35mm using a Toro triple cylinder mower, cutting on a daily basis throughout the growing season.
All the other pitches are cut using a Wessex rear mounted rotary deck, cutting twice a week in the growing season, and reducing the frequency to once a week, or less, through the winter months. Cutting height is set at 75mm.
The feeding programme for the stadium pitch is put together by Adrian Masters from Headland Amenity, who takes a number of soil samples to ascertaining the pitches needs.
The monthly feeding programmes, which encompass some tonics, turf hardners and wetting agents, see the following products being applied:
- 7 litres of Tricure
- 10 litres Seaamac Ultra Plus
- 6 kgs Teamag
- 20 litres of turf hardener
- 30 litres of turfite
- 60 litres Vertex NK 10:0:10
In mid August, fourteen bags of C Complex are applied, followed, in October, by sixteen bags of Multi green 20:0:32.
The rest of the pitches receive a limited granular feed to maintain colour and vigour.
Martin vertidrains the pitch every two to three weeks, varying the depth and size of tines used. The stadium pitch is marked using a spray jet linemarker. The rest of the pitches, due to the sheer number, are marked out using a sprayjet linemarker which enables a single pitch to be completed in just twenty minutes.
End of season renovation works are limited to the stadium and key senior club pitches. Every other year the main stadium pitch gets fraise mown to clean out unwanted debris and weeds, and to reduce poa populations. The pitch is then vertidrained, topdressed with 90 tonnes of MM45 Mansfield sand, fed and oversown with a ryegrass seed mixture. Johnsons Premier mix and R14 have been used in recent years.
The renovation on the other pitches is not dissimilar, comprising a programme of vertidraining and topdressing with a rootzone or straight sand (80 tonnes) and oversown. Due to budget constraints, only two or three pitches are done every year.
Sixways has come a long way since its conception in the early 1970s. The facility is ever changing, with better on and off field facilities for the players.
Their indoor training area had a new 3G deep artificial carpet installed a couple of years ago. The club have also invested in new seating areas, with the ground's capacity now set at 12,500.
With only two full time staff to look after the whole complex, the sheer amount of work both Martin and Richard get through is quite staggering.
Martin certainly hopes he can provide Richard Hill with the playing surfaces he requires, to allow the club to play the best possible rugby in their desire to return to the Premiership.