The playing quality of a sports surface is of fundamental importance to player safety as well as influencing the player’s enjoyment of the game. The quality of the surface can be described according to the interaction of the player with the surface and the interaction of the ball with the surface. In Rugby, the former is more important in relation to running, scrummaging, tackling and diving on the surface.
In addition to assessing playing quality, agronomic factors should also be considered such as the grass cover, moisture content and organic matter as these can have a strong bearing on playing quality.
The interaction of the player with the surface is determined by surface infiltration rates, grass cover and height as well as player footwear. In broad terms, the surface characteristics are determined by the firmness of the surface, the amount of grip that the surface imparts to the player, and how well the footwear can penetrate the surface.
All of these surface characteristics can be assessed in an objective manner.
1 – Hardness measured in gravities using a Clegg impact hammer, 0.5Kg weight dropped from 0.55m
2 – Traction measured in Newton meters using a studded disc with six 15mm long and 12.5mm diameter football studs
Performance testing should be carried out by an independent agency with the necessary skills to interpret the results as these can vary depending upon pitch construction type and region. They are useful, however, to help in the assessment of spatial variation across the surface.
Other assessments that can be made include surface evenness and stud penetration.
The ground cover, sward height, and moisture content are assessments that should be made on a regular basis to help monitor pitch performance.
It is important that the techniques employed are accurate and reflective of sections of the pitch with both high and low wear. This helps to build up a picture of how the pitch performs over the season and can be correlated with weather conditions and pitch usage. Such data can then help to inform the maintenance practices and identify any weaknesses within the pitch.