The Grounds Staff: Pitching for the perfect surface
Aviva’s Majella Smyth has seen many pitches come and go but says the new Desso surface is the best
The Desso Grassmaster
It’s hard to scrummage on a poor pitch. Yet in the last year the elite level of rugby union has seen Test matches played on pitches that offered more ploughed furrows than firm footing.
After a difficult 2013 Six Nations for the Aviva Stadium pitch, by the time the autumn Tests had come and gone the Lansdowne Road surface had been removed from the villains list. Morale is high among the grounds staff at IRFU headquarters and a big reason for that lies with an 83-year-old carpeting firm from the Netherlands.
In Cardiff, head groundsman Ian Evans is nursing his pitch through one final season at the Millennium Stadium. The current pitch is palletised, with grass grown elsewhere before being transported to the stadium and laid down in patches.
From the experience at his own ground and from watching others Evans has come to a clear conclusion. “You can no longer play top level rugby on an imported turf pitch,” said Evans.
The 2014 Heineken Cup final will be the last high profile match on the grass surface and Evans can’t wait to get his replacement. It will be a hybrid pitch just like Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium. It will be a Desso Grassmaster.
Desso first laid its “Grassmaster” pitch for a professional team in 1992. The Dutch firm is a major player in the tile and carpeting business with the bulk of their trade done in the type of carpet tiles typically found in corporate offices, cruise ships and airliners.
The pitch comprises natural grass reinforced with 20,000,000 fibre strands “knitted” every 0.8 inches to a depth of almost eight inches into the sub base. It’s the same surface as Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
Despite sometimes suffering snow and extreme wind chill of as low as -25 degrees Celsius, Desso says in the pitch’s 12-year life the Packers have never postponed a game for pitch reasons.
In June 2012 the bulldozers arrived to dig up 9,000 tons of Twickenham turf. The old Fibresand pitch had been in place for 12 years but it was reaching the end of a good life. Over the next 14 weeks Keith Kent, head groundsman at Twickenham since September 2002, installed the first Desso Grassmaster pitch used in the Six Nations. He’s very happy with it. “There’s no hiding place for a groundsman”, said Kent. “The game starts and it’s live on TV. And once it kicks off, everyone’s a groundsman”.