Talk to David Powell, Ground Manager, about his approach to maintaining the pitch at Franklin Gardens, home of Northampton Saints, and you will find him succinct, direct but also extremely modest. Recalling the times he played for England and the British Lions over 30 years ago, he has seen a terrific transformation in rugby pitch care and presentation but plays down his role in improving pitches.
"I approach ground care from a farming background," he says. "The basics are the same. To grow good grass, is to get the drainage right and choose the grass seed mix that will deliver the type of growth you want."
For the past five years, the grass seed mix chosen for Franklin Gardens has been DLF PRO Master 81. This perennial ryegrass mix includes both Bizet and New Himalaya varieties that help provide excellent sward density and wear tolerance, two key demands for a hard worked rugby pitch.
David suggests the right seed, good husbandry and looking after the pitch in as straightforward a fashion as possible are the keys to success. David comments, "DLF PRO Master 81 grass seed has been used for many years on our pitch and the players and officials comment on what a good playing surface we have." He is not afraid of using large equipment in the stadium, modern tyres ensuring the effective ground pressure is less than a human foot. The Saint's forwards will do more damage to the turf than any of the equipment used!
"We used to play in what could best be described as slurry," he adds. "I recall a tour we made to New Zealand . The pitch we were going to play on that evening had been used for matches running from 11 am that morning. No one cared about the condition of the pitch, which was by then a mud bath".
These days, TV coverage and the move of rugby union to a professional sport has changed all that. David Powell is too modest to accept his role in helping turn around how rugby pitches have evolved, but he still insists that a good pitch can be maintained if you stick to the basics.
"The key is ensuring a non-compacted, free draining soil. Next you need to use the right grass seed and keep it fertilised and watered," he says. "That said, I have spent the last 30 years doing things my own particular way which is perhaps not typical. I am not a fan of hand tools and pushing around wheelbarrows. I make sure the grass is not lush and over fed and that it looks good, but it must have a well rooted surface to create the surface modern professional rugby requires."
Photo :-David Powell, Northampton Saints Club President and Franklin Garden's Grounds Manager says the right seed and good husbandry are critical to keeping the pitch in good order.
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