MAINTENANCE – Day to day
Rugby pitches at all levels of the game require frequent mowing. The main purpose of mowing is to maintain turf health and ensure the grass is a suitable height for matches. Regular mowing will help to improve turfgrass density. Mowing also allows a pattern to be created for presentation purposes. Mowing can also be used to remove debris from the surface after matches.
- Mowing should be carried out using professional equipment with either a cylinder or rotary cutting action.
With a cylinder/reed mower, the blades spin round and use a shearing action to cut the grass between two blades
- With a rotary mower, one high speed, spinning blade is pushed against/impacts the grass with such force that it is cut.
It is vital that the mower blades are correctly set up and kept constantly sharp to ensure a clean cut. There are several types of professional mowers available which will typically be either self-propelled machines or ride on units:
Pedestrian cylinder mowers
For a professional finish, and quality cut, you would select a 900mm, self-propelled cylinder mower, fitted with a six or eight bladed cylinder. Ideal for match-day preparation.
Pedestrian rotary mowers
Pedestrian rotary mowers are ideal for post-match “clean up” of the surface. A good, sharp rotary mower can also be employed between cylinder cuts, to reduce surface compaction between matches. The self-propelled rotary mower should also be fitted with a rear roller, to maintain a good quality finish and presentation of the surface. A wheeled rotary mower will not achieve the same effect.
Ride on rotary mowers
For larger sports grounds, or for speed, where manpower is limited, a ride on rotary mower may be considered. Front mounted or mid-mounted units are popular and comprise a single unit or multiple decks.
Ride on cylinder mowers
The ride on cylinder mower is also useful for larger sports grounds or where time is limited. Out-front mowing, the ride on units can be fitted with three or five individual cylinder units, to cover a larger surface area.
It is strongly recommended that pedestrian cylinder mowers are used for optimal quality of cut and for implementing a strong mowing pattern. Alternatively, a ride on cylinder mower with three to five-belt, hydraulically or electrically driven cylinders can be considered for speed. Good quality professional rotary mowers can also provide good results although not quite to the same standard as a cylinder mower.
Often, trail behind a gang-mower is the only option available for clubs. These are not ideal as the tractor will flatten the grass in advance of the mower which can lead to an uneven cut. Preferably, the machine should cut ahead of the wheels. The tractor may also compact the surface.
All machinery must be properly maintained and serviced regularly (not on the field) prior to cutting the pitch.
Mowers are not only used to maintain the grass height but are also used for presentation, cutting more regularly leading up to an event will help with presentation. Stripes are achieved by always cutting the pitch using a string line as a guide. The more frequently you cut the pitch against the string line in the same position, the stronger the definition.
Consider ways to compost on site or anaerobically digest grass clippings produced by the site.
The frequency of mowing should be determined by growth rate. Regular mowing (Typically three-four times a week) is required during the growing season. The height of cut (length of the leaf from the top of the soil) should be kept at a constant value so the frequency of cut will determine how much is removed each time. It is strongly recommended that no more than one-third of the leaf length is removed at any time as this can damage the turf irreparably.
The height of cut will depend on turf health, the time of year and whether the grass is a warm-season or cool-season variety. The usual range for rugby is between 25-40mm.
The direction of mowing should be varied (length and width-ways cut) to maintain a vertical growth habit. It is recommended that clippings are collected to ensure a uniform playing surface and to promote turf health.
When mowing, sweeping turns with high radius arcs should be used when the edge of the pitch has been reached. Where space is restricted and there are tight turning circles use boards to turn the mower on. This will help keep grass cover in those areas. If this isn’t done, grass cover will be lost, and these areas will begin to encroach onto the playing surface.
Additional grass-type specific information
|Warm season grasses||
These species have a prostate growth habit and usually have stolons and/or rhizomes building a tight sward which may require a bit less frequency of cut.
Mowing height tends to be a bit lower too, recommending it between 20-30mms.
|Hybrid surfaces||Synthetic fibres should not be compromised by mowing too short|
Brushing is an important and often underestimated management practice that increases the overall appearance and quality of the grass in two ways. Before mowing, it places all grass blades in upright position and similar orientation allowing for a much better cut. After mowing or heavy usage, it cleans all debris and combs the grass in one direction marking clearer stripes.
Brushing is also performed to collect dirt left by insects (worms or mole crickets) or after removing cores during an aeration.
Brushing can be done light or more aggressive, depending on the goal pursued and the growth stage of the grass. A very light brushing for cleaning and aesthetics purposes may be considered a grooming.
Rolling is not a practice to be encouraged on rugby pitches except on sand-based surfaces. The operation leads to surface compaction, or deeper compaction when used regularly, which has the knock-on effect of promoting poor drainage, and possibly hard pitches. If surface levels need to be improved, identify whether this can be achieved through replacement or top dressing before the roller is considered. If rolling is required, make sure to balance the operation with an aeration treatment soon after.
Rolling is also an alternative to mowing to increase ball speed without reducing cut height and to highlight striping patterns. This should be done using a pedestrian cylinder roller.
Attention must be given to turns done at the pitch perimeter as a heavy roll may tear the grass when it pivots at a close radius. Use turning boards in these areas if needed.
Irrigation is important to support the life and health of the grass plant. It can help soften the surface or stabilise sand-based pitches, as well as water in chemicals/fertiliser products, and flush out impurities in the root zone. Always water for the purpose not out of habit. Investing in and using a moisture meter will help to manage the irrigation schedule.
It is crucial that the water used is of good quality.
Irrigation design is key to proper agronomic management. Areas of a rugby pitch suffer different wear or may have shaded areas and hence require different amount of water. An irrigation system that allows watering on individual areas of the pitch will ensure the correct amount of water is applied to each zone. Water is a scarce and sometimes expensive resource, requiring well-considered and sustainable management. In most countries, irrigation efficiency in terms of water assimilation by the grass is important, especially in sand-based pitches and warm regions. To ensure a sustainable approach to water management the following points should be considered:
- Watering in the late evening or early hours of a day after sunrise is preferred as plants need water during the day (photosynthesis). This also allows the leaf surface to dry out during the day. During the night, although it may be the best time to irrigate in windy areas, a large amount of water may be lost by infiltration while later in the day, by evaporation. Applying irrigation at night can also result in periods of leaf wetness which increases the risk of turfgrass disease
- Use deeply penetrating water cycles to ensure the water migrates heavily into the root zone and is not left sitting on the leaf surface which can be lost to evapotranspiration. If periods of particularly hot and dry weather are experienced, short irrigation cycles, known as ‘syringe cycles’, can be used to wet the leaf and cool the grass plant. This typically involves one 360-degree rotation of each sprinkler
- To ensure appropriate water management, it is recommended that routine measurements of the pitch’s soil moisture content are carried out to ensure the moisture content of the root zone material is in the target range and excessive irrigation is not being applied.
From an agronomic perspective it important to ensure pitches are not over irrigated as this can result in increased turfgrass disease risk and poor root development leading to issues with instability.
In certain situations, it may be possible to carry out rainwater harvesting as part of the water management strategy for the pitch. This involves collecting rainwater either from the pitch drainage system or from site infrastructure such as roofs or car parks for re-use. This does require a degree of additional water treatment and infrastructure but can yield significant quantities of water in a sustainable manner. This does require specialist design input.
Find the best balance for your pitch, too much water and the surface may become too soft and encourage excessive damage to the grass, too little and the pitch could become too hard and weak. If possible, use moisture meters or underground sensors to maintain a suitable amount of water in the surface. This technique could also save money with the water companies.
Natural pitches maintain moisture for longer periods of time, therefore keeping the surface dry during matches will minimising the possibility of damage during scrums.
Additional grass-type specific information
|Warm season grasses||They usually require less water than cool season and transitional grasses as they are more drought tolerant.|
|Hybrid surfaces||For the best results for a Hybrid pitch would be to water the pitch overnight prior to a rugby match, topping up levels (if required) during the match-day, however, it is recommended not to water the pitch any later than four hours before kick-off. This is to try to ensure the surface is slightly wet and the leaf is dry, preventing the ball from becoming wet.|
For best recovery results of a plant, it is important that divots are repaired immediately after use. For best practices aim for the heavier wear areas first (for example, scrum areas), ensuring the levels are returned to normal before rotary vacuum commences.
It is always advisable to repair thin and small divots with a fork, while for any major repairs consider using a square deep plugger to remove the turf from the nursery or behind the try-line area. This area should be maintained in the same way as the main pitch to ensure the joins have the same aesthetic appearance.
Check the rooting of the turf prior to removal and replacement.
Repairing divots is a tiresome, however very important part of ground staff’s role. Ideally divot repairs should be carried out immediately after matches, however, sometimes this is not possible. When divoting takes place and if the conditions are suitable for growing, carry a small bag of seed to place some seed in smaller areas. Larger damaged areas will need to have the sod replaced.
Overseeding (see separate section) should be considered as part of damage repair where appropriate.
Warm season grasses
Plugs can be placed into some of the divot areas to speed up recovery. However, if serious damage is caused consider using a turf doctor to repair the heavily damaged areas. For best results it is advised to remove the turf plugs from behind the goal areas, near to the dead ball line.
Additional grass-type specific information
Divot repairs are usually minimal for a hybrid surface and should be carried out with a divot fork.
That said, sometimes disasters can happen. Therefore, for carpet surfaces bigger areas should be removed and a new similar target area can be used.
With a stitched surface, a square deep plugger can be used to remove an excessively damaged area. However, this area will need to be hand stitched after the new turf has been installed.