Darlington groundsman preparing for All Blacks

Darlington Mowden Park Rugby Club's head groundsman is jumping at finally getting the chance to renovate his pitch after the club was selected as training camp for the All Blacks during the Rugby World Cup.

Ian Dunnabie. Image: Rigby Taylor
Ian Dunnabie. Image: Rigby Taylor

Ian Dunnabie, head groundsman at The Northern Echo Arena, became groundsman at the rugby union National League 1 club's ground three years ago.

The pitch had only ever been overseeded and dressed by hand for the past five years, Dunnabie explained.

"As part of the build-up to hosting the All Blacks, however, and after the initial pitch inspection that involved an examination of the sward (coverage and colour) and root density, as well as impact tests, the resulting plan of action centred on either Koroing or fraise mowing the surface, followed by the usual routine of overseeding, dressing and fertilisation."

The decision was made to strip the surface off the pitch using a Koro. A 70/30 sand mixture was then applied before overseeding with 18-20 bags of Rigby Taylor's R14, which establishes rapidly, is disease- and wear-tolerant, and gives colour all year round.

"The All Blacks will only be here for five day of training - and while it is stipulated that the pitch must have a four-week rest period before their arrival, which will create a slight headache with club fixtures, their presence at the ground has actually meant I've been able to treat the stadium pitch in the ideal way, albeit while continuing to work within a very tight budget."

Having an exclusive supplier deal with Rigby Taylor for grass seed and amenity consumables has helped him keep to the constraints of a limited budget, Dunnabie explained. 

Rigby Taylor supplies a host of products to the club, from fertilisers to liquid iron and line marking paint. The club currently uses Rigby Taylor's Impact XP paint but the company's Duraline Stadium paint has been selected to be used exclusively at all RWC tournament training bases and match stadia.

Drainage solutions

Playability problems encountered on the heavy, solid clay pitches when Dunnabie took over have been minimised, thanks to the advice of Rigby Taylor's technical representative Jamie Applegarth, who suggested the installation of a soil by-pass system.

The training pitches had a drainage system built into them, but because there was so much clay on top, water took around three weeks to reach the drains. The answer was to completely by-pass the clay that sat between the surface and the drainage system.

Sand bands were cut at one metre centres and these went into the centre of the existing drainage system. Then 200 tonnes of sand was added to the surface before seeding.

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