December Rugby Union Diary

By Laurence Gale MSc

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Many parts of the country have been experiencing their first spells of bad weather with ongoing heavy rain and in some parts of the country, frost and snow. This has resulted in some match postponements. Morning pitch inspections are essential to ensure the pitch is fit for play. Assessing the condition of the pitch should be carried out by an experienced grounds person who has an understanding of the damage that can occur when playing on an unfit pitch in regards to player safety and pitch protection.

Playing on saturated pitches will certainly result in surface damage. When saturated soils lose their stability and strength. Play from scrummages and line out play are the main causes of damage on rugby pitches during wet weather periods. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm of the surface to drain quickly.

To help keep the top 100mm free draining, a surface aeration programme is necessary. This can be achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150mm, or more when conditions allow. There are other specialist machines available that can help to improve surface drainage for example the Blec Ground breaker, Imants Rotoknife and the Vertidrain range of machines.

Most of the tasks detailed can be undertaken within a limited budget. Local conditions and circumstances will need to be taken into account. If any members are undertaking any specific work not detailed, please let us know by adding a comment in the section below the diary.

December tasks for Rugby Union

Task

Frequency

Reason

Aeration

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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 autumn aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and the plant to breathe. Achieving an improved root system will stand you in good stead for the coming winter months.

Brushing/ sweeping

Daily/weekly

To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS Quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.

Disease

Daily/weekly

Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often increases the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

Drainage

Weekly

Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.

Fertiliser programme

If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics 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.

Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant during the winter months.

Flood lights

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As required

An annual inspection should be carried out on your floodlights by an independent qualified electrician who can inspect the wiring and ensure the lights are safe for use. Bulbs need replacing on a regular basis, bulbs tend to loose there efficiency overtime, resulting in lower illumination outputs.

Check the lux values of your lighting system. Sports governing bodies stipulate a lux value depending on the level of play.

Goal posts

Weekly

Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Padding should be used around the base of the posts during matches.

Grooming/ verticutting

As required

Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes. Brushing the pitch in the opposite direction prior to cut will produce a cleaner finish and a healthier sward when used in partnership with verti-cutting.

Harrowing/ raking

When conditions allow

Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation equipment

As required

The need for irrigation has been greatly reduced. Lower temperatures and early morning dews have increased the humidity of the air above the turf surface, thus reducing evaportranspiration rates (ET).

If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied. Ensure that the water gets deep into the root-zone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

Litter/debris

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.

Machinery (Repairs and maintenance)

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.

Marking out

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As Required

Check with the sports governing body (RFU) for any amendments to the laws and markings of the pitch. 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 dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. See link for marking materials and equipment

Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use.

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As required

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 mowers may smear and damage the surface especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Seed bare & worn areas

When conditions allow

Seeding of sparse or bare areas can still be carried out. Rye grasses will still germinate in December without the aid of germination sheets. Use germination sheets to aid the process of germination but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.

Ensure you use new seed as old seed may not give you the required germination rates.

Soil tests

Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.

Soil sampling is an important part of Groundsmanship. 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 it's particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.

· Soil pH, it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, 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.