The Groundsman

May 2012

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Page 32 of 47

the Groundsman May 2012 FEATURE 33 "Working patterns and lifestyle trends have changed," he continues. "Gone are the days when we can expect a sport based on 19th century traditions to thrive. To be viable going forwards, we have to change and respond to modern- day trends in leisure time. Other sports are not a threat to rugby; Xboxes and the like are what we have to worry about if we have any ambition of attracting young people into rugby and into sport! "Importantly, the instigation of 'summer play' on pitches without snow, ice or waterlogging will not only mean fewer cancellations but it will also help generate a better and faster game of higher skill levels," he continues. "Drier conditions will encourage better handling and passing. Better pitches will improve the quality of play; to have any hope of future England teams consistently competing against the Southern Hemisphere sides, then we need to create more skilful players. "And better quality pitches are the key - after all, the Australian kids are not playing in mud. There is no doubt that pitches that are flat with a good covering of grass, and are not rutted, are the way forward. "One thing that the consultations highlighted, and in particular the research by consultancy TrioPlus that was commissioned to develop a four-year facilities strategy to match the switch to summer, was the fact that our pitches have been suffering from a dreadful lack of investment." TrioPlus researched in detail over 100 of the 437 community clubs, as well as possible development sites including schools, parks and universities. Its resulting strategy raised a number of issues but, in particular, it highlighted the general poor quality of the natural turf pitches – and the RFL reacted quickly, under the auspices of its Playing Surfaces Group, which embraces the expertise of the England and Wales Cricket Board and, in particular, the IOG. Together, the RFL and IOG have developed a concerted programme of training for pitch maintenance and management. Pitch remediation, says David, will remain a number one priority over the next three seasons. "We no longer use the term groundsman," continues David. "Turf Care Managers has a much more professional ring to it; the title elevates them in the pecking order – especially in the eye of the general public - and it proffers much more value to they role they play. After all, their job is all about managing the turf and without them we wouldn't have games nor spectators, and our clubs - all the way to community level - would suffer [in terms of income]." The RFL-IOG programme has seen all RFL Conference League and community club Turf Care Managers undergo a Foundation course. This one-day course presents a practical approach to the preparation and maintenance of a pitch, delivering the essential operations of 'best practice' grounds maintenance with hands-on induction. The IOG Foundation course is targeted at new entrants (professional and volunteer) or those requiring a refresher course in modern preparation and maintenance techniques. "The course has been inspiring," adds David, "and has opened the eyes of clubs and particularly the swathe of groundscare volunteers to exactly what can be achieved with a pitch for relatively little outlay." In addition, the RFL in conjunction with the IOG have compiled pitch Performance Quality Standards, and a number of community clubs have had a pitch remediation survey which could result in the RFL underwriting a £5,000 improvement package for clubs. Also, currently being developed by the IOG are Technical Guidance Notes on the summer maintenance of rugby pitches. The RFL is the governing body for rugby league football in England, administering the England rugby league team, the Challenge Cup, Super League, Championship and the community game. Established as the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895 by representatives of 21 Rugby Football Union clubs, it changed its name in 1922 to the Northern Rugby Football League. Fantastic plastic? Will the introduction this season by Super League club Widnes Vikings of the first synthetic playing surface for top-level rugby (a 65 mm long pile with shock pad: IRB22 standard) start a wholesale changeover to artificial turf in rugby? "We'll have to wait and see," says David Gent. "Grass will always be the first choice – but there is obviously a role for artificial surfaces, though I am aware that the NFL in America is now moving back to natural turf for games. "As far as Widnes goes, we'll have to hear what the players say and what the research reveals as the season goes on." "The IOG courses have helped clubs change their behaviour and regard towards their pitches. It has become crystal clear that a well-maintained and better pitch has already made a significant difference – a better, good looking pitch makes the whole product, the complete offering of rugby, look so different – so much better." While it's early days, all the signs are that the RFL's four seasons model will be a great success, David concludes. "We need to do everything we can to put ourselves in the best position to attract youngsters and summer rugby is one way to do just that. I'm absolutely convinced that we will see an improvement in the quality of the players and of the game – let alone the pitches - and I predict it won't be too long before football and rugby union also go this way, too!" The Rugby Football League Eventually the 'Northern' was dropped from its name at the beginning of the 1980s. The name Rugby Football League previously also referred to the main league competition run by the organisation. This has since been supplanted by Super League (Tier One), the Championship (Tier Two), and the community game comprising the Conference Leagues (Tier Three) and Regional Leagues (Tier Four).

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