The Groundsman

January 2013

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IOG BEST PRACTICE 17 " I try to emphasise that clubs shouldn't cut back on the little things, which cumulatively can often make a big difference " When not thinking about playing surfaces, Keith is a fan of The Rolling Stones "I joined Twickenham at a time of change," says Keith. "Not only was the stadium about to host its first pop concert, but there were also plans for a new south stand, a Marriott hotel and a Virgin Active health club/gymnasium. This construction plan would create a 'wraparound' stadium and result in an environment similar to the one I had experienced at Manchester and, of course, it would focus on the implications of reduced light and air on the pitch." That said, Keith's achievements at Twickenham – "my ambition is always to have the best rugby pitch in the world", and having not one game cancelled due to a bad pitch, whatever the weather – is clearly mirrored by his pride in playing a wider role for the RFU, as part of the union's Facilities team. "I regard it as a privilege being able to visit clubs of every size, from Level Nine through to Premiership, helping where I can and making recommendations regarding, for example, the use of different grass seeds and fertilisers. It's what the RFU does as part of its service to the community game." The national governing body for grassroots and elite rugby in England, the RFU has more than 2,000 clubs as members which are supported by more than 50 development officers and 120 community coaches who provide 30,000 coaching sessions a year for young people. The RFU employs about 500 paid staff and helps to train and support up to 60,000 volunteers whose roles include: • Organising rugby activity, including the playing, coaching and refereeing of matches and recreational rugby at all levels • Supporting the volunteer workforce • Working with clubs to secure grants and loans for facilities • Offering medical and fitness advice and support • Fundraising and handling money and insurance. RFU funding to clubs not only contributes to the purchase of pitch maintenance machinery, but it also supports investment in dressing rooms, for example. The service even extends to offering advice on energy usage, property management and council planning laws. One current example of its efforts to help clubs invest in appropriate machinery is an agreement with two major manufacturers that will provide RFU member clubs with a cost-effective package of turf maintenance machinery "that will last a lifetime and hold the key to a superb pitch", adds Keith. Explosion in play Keith says that the England's rugby team's 2003 World Cup victory was a watershed for the sport in the UK. "As result, we now have more than 200,000 youngsters playing rugby every Sunday and as groundsmen it is our duty to ensure the pitches are not only able to withstand this wear and tear but that they also look the part, to reinforce the groundsman's feelings of pride in the pitch. I'm happy with anything I can do to help clubs achieve this." The use of chain harrowing, sand and aeration – "if you spike and slit every week it will make an enormous difference" - can produce stark improvements to pitch appearance and performance. "I try to emphasise that clubs shouldn't cut back on the little things, which cumulatively can often make a big difference, and because each club and pitch is different we, as the RFU, try to help the clubs cut their cloth accordingly. The last thing any groundsman (in any sport) wants is a lost game due to a bad surface - and the answer doesn't always lie in a new £1.2m pitch." "Everything every groundsman does is geared towards having a performance pitch ready for a certain day and at grassroots level at least, groundsmen are clearly doing what they do for the love of the game and for their clubs. I'm sure Twickenham is no different to any other venue: we owe it to the public to get each game played, whatever the weather. Okay, there's not a lot you can do if it snows heavily an hour before kick-off, but we do everything in our power to stage each game and not let the players or the spectators down. t the Groundsman January 2013 Visit www.iog.org for more information and digital editions

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