"If ever there was an advert for aeration and sand, then this pitch is the number one!I would love to take this pitch all over the country to show people just what can be achieved inside one year"
Keith Kent, Head Groundsman, Twickenham RFU
There's never a dull moment when Keith Kent, the Head Groundsman at Twickenham, is giving a talk on his role at the Rugby Football Union's National Stadium. Even more so when he is partnered by our very own Dave Saltman.
I caught up with Keith at Moseley Rugby Club, where he was addressing a number of Midlands rugby clubs, as part of the popular RFU grounds maintenance roadshows that they have been running for a number of years.
The aims of the roadshows are to inform clubs of the latest developments in pitch maintenance, with a chance to hear how Keith looks after Twickenham and, for some clubs, the opportunity to have Keith inspect their facilities and give advice on the best way to manage their pitches with the resources they have.
Keith is also able to pass on up-to-date information on funding opportunities available from the RFU and other sporting bodies.
During the day, Keith conducted an inspection of the Moseley Pitch, taking soil samples to see the condition of the profile. He planned to discuss his findings with the groundstaff and then send them a written report. More on his findings later.
The evening talk was well attended with some groundsmen travelling from as far away as Nottingham, Fylde and Telford. One of the delegates was Greg Smith, the Head Groundsman from Notts County FC, who was keen to talk to Keith about his Meadow Lane pitch, where he now has to cope with both football and rugby (see article elsewhere in this magazine).
Many of the questions from the floor revolved around dwindling budgets and the lack of quality machinery.
Keith pointed out that one of the most under performed practices was aeration, and that a good aeration programme would help the pitch more than anything else. He explained how the RFU offered a service to clubs to get their pitches aerated using the RFU's soil relievers.
The RFU have fourteen tractors and soil relievers based at rugby clubs up and down the country, which can be hired for use. Moseley Rugby Club are one of these.
Adam Caves is the Head Groundsman at Moseley, and is also the man in charge of the tractor and aerator combo, travelling around the region to undertake the work required. He is also one of the club's first team players.
He organises his groundsman duties around his busy professional rugby playing career. Adam, now twenty-seven, has been with the club since he was twelve, and has played representative rugby for his county and England under 19s and under 21s.
Moseley was founded in 1873 and celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1998. The team adopted its signature red and black colours in 1874. Moseley originally played its home matches at The Reddings, in Birmingham, their home until the end of the 1999-2000 season.
For the following five years, the club were without a home and played out of Birmingham University. However, in 2005, Birmingham City Council offered them facilities at Billesley Common and have since given the club a long term lease on an area to the north of the site, where the club's facilities and 1st XV pitch are located. These temporary facilities include a clubhouse and changing rooms, a covered stand, club shop, and hospitality boxes. The pitch is extremely highly-rated for its playing surface, although it gently slopes to the north-east. There are also outer pitches on the common for the 2nd XV, development XV, colts, women's, minis and juniors, as well as an all-weather pitch with the latest rubber-crumb technology.
Moseley is a member of the English Championship, formerly National Division One, and is among the top twenty-four clubs in England. It is owned by a consortium of members and supporters who successfully gained RFU approval to run the club in August 2002.
Currently playing in the Championship and, unfortunately, with a relegation battle on their hands, the club are focused on developing their ground with the overall aim of building the appropriate facilities to allow them entry into the Premiership - of course they would have to win the championship to do that!
Plans for the replacement of the temporary facilities with permanent buildings were first exhibited to the general public in 2007. In the autumn of 2009, the plans were formally submitted to Birmingham City Council for the construction of a 5000 seat stand along the east side of the pitch, allowing the overall capacity to be expanded to 7500. Planning approval was granted by councillors on the 21 January 2010 with construction expected to start once funding is obtained.
In the meantime the club 'make do', but have invested in the pitches. In 2006, a brand new sand based pitch, with integral pop up watering system, was installed, along with high spec Abacus floodlighting. The main pitch has been lit to a maintained level of 250 lux with the training pitch lit to 300 lux.
In 2008, the club also installed a Desso DD Rugby Pro all weather pitch. This incorporates Desso's supersoft 70mm monofilament fibre, as well as an additional heavy backing. The extra long pile allows for enough rubber infill to make the surface a safe landing point for any falls from lineout or intense tackling, whilst the additional backing ensures the carpet's stability against scrummaging, rucking and mauling.
The club have access to this on a daily basis, but allow community groups to use it at all other times.
The maintenance of the pitches is undertaken by Birmingham Council, who are paid by the club for their services. Trevor Edge is the nominated council supervisor, who works alongside Adam. Between them they look after all the natural turf pitches and the all weather pitch.
The main natural turf pitch is worked on daily. Adam and Trevor mow the pitch two or three times a week using a Ransomes Matador 36" cylinder mower. During the growing period it is kept at 50mm. They mark out for matches on a weekly basis.
Feeding is centred around a granular programme, feeding every four to six weeks depending on the needs of the grass, with an occasional feed of liquid iron to colour up and increase strength.
Post match, divots are repaired and replaced, with the aim of getting the pitch back into good order. Trevor uses a Ferrari rotary mower to clean up the pitch after matches; it's a quick and easy job completed in less than an hour.
Pitch preparation is usually carried out the day before a game. The pitch is mown, watered and marked out. The pitch does tend to dry out quite quickly due to the strong south westerly winds that blow across Billesley Common. During the summer months it is not uncommon for it to be watered on a daily basis.
Adam also spends a lot of time looking after the all weather pitch, carrying out a daily litter pick, regular brushing (2-3 times per week) with a sisis rotary brush. Periodical cleaning is undertaken by Sweepfast.
The input of Keith Kent to the Moseley pitch has been invaluable.
When he visited the club back in March of 2010, he found the pitch in a poor condition, with little or no grass. This was due to a number of things, but the biggest contributors were a lack of deep aeration and extreme winter weather.
However, a year on, and Keith is pleased with the progress the staff had made. "At that time, the pitch was as hard as a brick with barely any grass," states Keith. "We had just come through a bad winter and the pitch was looking the worse for wear. Twelve months on, I am delighted with what the club have achieved. The ground staff have done the most magnificent job."
"There is so much more grass on the pitch. There must be at least 75% grass coverage! The top surface was very good and very easy to dig my spade into. The soil was so much healthier, and no sign of compaction at all. The sand that had been applied last year was still there in the profile doing such a good job. The wormcasts are full of sand, and the worms are working away also doing a good job for the club. It is also worth remembering that this winter was perhaps worse than the last!"
"If ever there was an advert for aeration and sand, then this pitch is the number one! I would love to take this pitch all over the country to show people just what can be achieved inside one year."
Keith is keen to see the club continue improving the pitch quality. This will be achieved by further applications of sand. Trevor is already planning to apply another 60 tonnes of sand during end of season renovations in late April, early May, after the final senior match has been played and before the junior mini rugby tournament later in May.
Adam and Trevor are aware that it is important to keep the deep aeration going, and are planning to deep spike it twice with the soil reliever. They will also scarify the pitch, deep aerate, topdress and overseed.
Keith recommends they use a 100% ryegrass seed mixture and ensure it is drilled into the soil to ensure effective germination. And to ensure that, once it has germinated, it is mown on a regular basis, at least twice a week, to help the sward tiller. "I see too many clubs that to 'forget' to mow once the season has finished, and leave it get out of hand," says Keith. "I have also recommended a balanced fertiliser programme to give that seed the best possible start. I suggest that the club fertilise three times a year, once in April/May, as the remedial work is taking place. An application of 8:12:8 would give the seed as much nutrient as it is going to need in establishing itself."
"Then, as the club is about to kick off the new season, apply a high Nitrogen boost of 16:6:6. That would really kick the grass sward on. It would also give a magnificent colour as the players run out for the first game."
"And then, finally, in the autumn, give the pitch an autumn/winter feed. If they can do, this allied with a pass of the aerator, all the better. In the autumn, it is important to give the cell walls of the plant and the roots a boost as we go into the dark winter months. A 4:10:10 will help the grass survive a hard winter."
Trevor and Adam will definitely be taking Keith's recommendations on board, as they have seen the improvements achieved since last year's advice was implemented.
As well as improving the Moseley pitch, Adam has seen the benefits of deep aeration on other local grounds that have hired the RFU tractor and aerator.
Adam coordinates the hire of the combo. The current rate is £250 per pitch plus VAT. However, there is a transport charge if the club is more than fifteen miles away from Moseley.
Anyone interested should contact Adam at Moseley Rugby Club on 0121 443 3631.