There aren't many rugby groundsmen this challenging winter who can claim not to have a single fixture postponed - but that is the case for Jason Booth, Head Groundsman at Headingley. To underline just what an achievement this is you have to take into account the fact that the ground at Headingley, from the middle of December, plays host to both Premier League Rugby teams, Leeds Carnegie and Leeds Rhinos.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the staging of the Premier League rugby union fixture between Leeds Carnegie and play-off contenders Wasps on Sunday February 28. Leeds were desperately trying to lift themselves off the bottom of the table and had begun to show signs of a revival.
Wasps were without their players away on international duty and had already refused to play a match at Sale earlier in the season because they claimed that water on the pitch made it dangerous. Having seen the state of the other grounds around the country where matches were played on the previous day, Wasps must have expected Headingley to be a quagmire - especially as everyone knows that the Headingley pitch suffers from notoriously poor drainage.
However, eighteen months ago Jason invested in a new pitch protection system, Pitch Protector, marketed in the UK by experienced sports equipment suppliers JMS Sport UK, based in Keighley. Easily deployed using the minimum of manpower, Jason has had the system in place for most of these last few months. On the Friday before the match one and a half inches of rain fell on Headingley. Jason has never seen as much rain on the sheets.
Jason says: "We took it off on match day for the Leeds Carnegie game against Wasps on February 28 and it only took us two and a half hours. Without it the game could not have taken place. The Pitch Protector system not only ensured that the game went ahead but the surface was comparatively firm and allowed the players to run and handle the ball with confidence".
And it certainly gave Leeds the confidence to produce a 26 - 10 victory and give them realistic hopes of Premiership survival.
From mid December Jason also had the task of providing Leeds Rhinos with a pitch for their fixtures in preparation for their World Club Challenge match against Melbourne Storm.
However, thanks to the Pitch Protector system and use of frost sheets, Jason can claim that Headingley is the only Rugby ground not to have lost any fixture in this period.
Another Yorkshire rugby club, Bradford Bulls also realised the worth of employing Pitch Protector to guarantee that their home games at Odsal went on as scheduled in February - particularly as important TV revenue was at stake.
Stadium Manager Ryan Duckett hired the system for the month and says: "It has been excellent and certainly made sure we got our games against both Saints and Castleford on".
Adapted from the system used by The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees in the USA, Yorkshire based JMS have cleverly refined a way of covering the entire pitch from heavy rain that is both quick and easy to deploy and remove as well as requiring the minimum of manpower to do it.
The 250ft by 40ft covers are brought into the stadium on specially designed trolleys and positioned around the ground. An inflatable "sausage" is then primed and the covers are rolled into position on the pitch itself.
125ft long foam waterbooms are placed under the covers to control the flow of water off the covers and at Headingley 9 covers are used to cover the main pitch with additional smaller covers in the dead ball areas.
When the bad weather has passed, the covers are rolled back up on their "sausages". The water on the sheets disperses as the sheets are rolled back to the edge of the pitch. The "sausage" is then deflated, the cover rolled up, put back on the trolley and taken out of the stadium.
Web site: www.jmssportuk.co.uk