The grounds of the Six Nations stand as great monuments to sport and they all have tales to tell and secrets to reveal.
Joy oh joy, it’s another RBS Six Nations, and another campaign to France, to Italy and to all points north, east, south and west in Britain. The game is the main attraction, but there is much more to it than that.
Each location is infused with its own special rugby spirit and a great weekend away is there for all who want it. Rome and Paris in the spring, friendly--- Dublin, grand old Edinburgh, lively Cardiff and towering Twickenham. Rugby fans are great travellers, and the arrival of the Six Nations is pilgrimage time.
Famous for hosting: 1991 Rugby World Cup final, European Cup and domestic finals, The Rolling Stones concert
The old cabbage patch was purpose-built for rugby in 1909, with a 20,000 capacity for both standing and seated spectators. The decision to set up in the west of London was considered a gamble, but bit by bit the crowds flocked to the ground.
The first international was between England and Wales in 1910, which England won 11-6. In 1981, the rebuilding of the stadium began and the venue as we know it today evolved gradually.
By 1995, Twickenham had an all-seat capacity of 75,000. That included a number of restaurants and bars, a museum, over 100 executive boxes and shopping facilities. The total area of Twickenham has grown from 10 acres in 1907 to 35 acres today.
In 2002, the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) revealed its plans to redevelop the ground further with the £80 million South Stand project launch. That is now complete and includes a four-star hotel, conference, exhibition and banqueting spaces, a health and fitness club and a 400-seat performing arts centre for local community use. The capacity is now 82,000 and the ground is one giant oval bowl.
GETTING THERE: The nearest train station is Twickenham, and is a short walk from the stadium. Turn right out of the station and then down Whitton Road. Regular trains run to Twickenham from London Waterloo, Clapham Junction, Reading, Ascot and Windsor & Eton Riverside. Twickenham Stadium is on the northern side of the A316 into London. From the M25, exit at J12 onto the M3. This becomes the A316, and Twickenham Stadium is off the Whitton Road roundabout next to the Lexus/Toyota car dealership. From London, turn right off the A316 at Whitton Road roundabout.
TWICKENHAM SECRET TIP: Going to the ground by train?
Travel past Twickenham station to Whitton. The walk is less congested and for the return journey it is easier and quicker to catch a train from this stop.
Stade de france
Famous for hosting: 1998 World Cup football final,
2007 Rugby World Cup final, 2003 World Championship Athletics
Built for the 1998 Soccer World Cup championship and the scene of the final, which France won 3-0 against defending champions Brazil, the Stade de France has otherwise not enjoyed home glory.
In February of the following year, France beat England 24-17 in the first rugby international to be played there. The first international try was scored by Philippe Bernat-Salles for France, while Neil Back scored England's first try there.
Stade Français and Toulouse set a new club French league game attendance record in October 2005 of over 75,000, by using the stadium instead of Stade Français’s usual venue of the 12,000-capacity Stade Jean-Bouin. They needed upwards of 30,000 to break even but were surprised at the pre-booking of over 60,000.
Built in the shape of an ellipse, similar to one of Saturn's rings, the roof appears to float above the stadium, suspended by 18 steel needles at a height of 148 feet above the ground.
The Stade de France is ten minutes from Bourget Gaulle Airport on the RER B heading for Robinson/St-Remys-Les-Chevreuse. From Roissy Charles De Gaulle it is a 30-minute journey on RER B heading for Robinson/St-Remys-Les-Chevreuse. The stadium is 60 minutes from Orly airport.
GETTING THERE: The Paris Metro, Line 13 (Saint-Denis Universite) is one of the biggest lines feeding Montparnasse and St-Lazare. By car there is direct access from the A1 (exit 2, Saint-Denis Stade De France) and A86 motorways (exit 9, Saint-Denis Stade De France). The stadium is situated close to these motorway exits. Due to the limited parking spectators are advised to use other means of transport wherever possible.
paris SECRET TIP: If you are travelling to the Stade de France by train from Gare du Nord, pictured right, then buy a return rail at the Gare du Nord there is usually a huge queue of people at the RER station at the Stade after the game.
Famous for hosting: All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship,
Robbie Williams concert
A temporary home, and one that had been jealously protected by the Ireland’s Gaelic Football Association (GAA), who had refused other sports the chance to use the facilities, the new age of open hospitality has been a resounding success.
Croke Park is a remarkable place for many reasons it is the fourth largest stadium in Europe, and the largest in the world to belong to an amateur organisation. Croke Park has been the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association since 1884.
In recent years the stadium has seen a good deal of investment, with a £180m redevelopment programme increasing its capacity to an enormous 82,500.
The GAA was founded as an organisation to maintain and promote indigenous Irish sport, it therefore felt honour-bound throughout its history to oppose other, rival sports. A motion in 2005 relaxed the rules temporarily allowing football and rugby to be played there for the first time in 2007.
The arrival of rugby has proved to be a massive and emotional success with the home crowd and travelling fans alike all taking to the place immediately.
Meanwhile, Lansdowne Road, the oldest international ground in world rugby, and has been hosting matches since 1878, is getting a facelift. This will mean an increase in its capacity from the 48,500 that it used to host to 50,000 all-seated. This Irish Rugby Football Union Football Association
and Government-backed project is expected to take another 15 months to complete.
GETTING THERE: Croke Park is situated in north Dublin between Drumcondra and Ballybough, and is bordered by Jones’s Road to the west, Clonliffe Road to the north, St. James Avenue to to the east and the Royal Canal to the south. The stadium is well served by public transport. Bus, Rail, DART and LUAS can all bring you to less than a 15-minute walk from the ground. The Croke Park authorities have recently launched an initiative to encourage greater use of public transport by visitors to the stadium.
dublin SECRET TIP: If you’re after a decent pint of Guinness, the best pint is to be had at O'Donoghues on Merrion Row, just off St Stephen’s Green. It’s a fair trek from Croke Park but worth the effort.
Famous for hosting: 1991, 1999 and 2007 Rugby World Cup knock-out matches, youth rally for the Pope and Highland Games
In 1922, the SRU bought 19 acres of land from the Edinburgh Polo Club and built Murrayfield. Prior to that, they played at Inverleith on land bought for £3,800 in 1897. In doing that, the Scots became the first nation to own its own ground.
Murrayfield was officially opened in 1925 with the visit of England for the Five Nations, a match Scotland won 14-11. Victory brought the home nation its first-ever Grand Slam in front of 70,000 spectators.
The ground still holds the record for the highest attendance at a rugby game, when a crowd of over 104,000 watched a match between Scotland and Wales in 1975.
The stadium underwent renovation and new-look Murrayfield was opened in 1994 by the Princess Royal, after a redevelopment costing £37million.
These days, the stadium has a capacity of 67,500, with the popular terracing for standing spectators removed because of new safety regulations and demands for all-seated stadiums.
New for this season are the Grouse Gates. They have been specially commissioned to commemorate and celebrate 17 years of partnership between Scottish Rugby and The Famous Grouse. The gates, situated in the west perimeter of the stadium, will be a permanent reminder of the longest national team sponsorship in the world of rugby.
The Famous Grouse stepped down at the end of October as Scotland Team Sponsor, after a record 17-year partnership, and has now taken on a new role as the Spirit of Scottish Rugby.
GETTING THERE: If you are travelling by car take the A8 from Edinburgh. If you are travelling by train: Waverley Rail Station is about a half-hour's walk from the stadium. Haymarket Station is only ten minutes walk from the ground. A regular bus service runs return services from the ground and Waverley Rail Station.
edinburgh SECRET TIP: It is a tradition for fans visiting Murrayfield to attempt a circuit of all 15 pubs in nearby Rose Street.
Famous for hosting: 1999 Rugby World Cup final, FA Cup final, Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert
The Millennium Stadium was completed in time for the 1999 Rugby World Cup and is one of the most stunning sporting arenas in world sport with a 72,000 all-seat capacity and retractable roof. It replaced the famous Cardiff Arms Park at a cost of £126million.
The first match played at the newly developed ground was in front of just 27,000 spectators in June 1999, as the ground wasn’t completed. It was between South Africa and Wales, and the home team defeated the Springboks for the first time, winning 29-19 during the reign of Graham Henry as coach.
The roof, which takes about 20 minutes to close, was the first of its kind to be constructed in Britain. The stadium is completely enclosed with curved corners and is mostly three tiered with an additional row of 125 executive boxes.
The North Stand, is only two tiered as it backs onto the neighbouring Cardiff Rugby Club. Efforts were made to persuade the rugby club to move, but to no avail. Hence, the stadium is built directly onto the rear of one of the rugby club stands, and as there was insufficient space, a third tier could not be built.
Another unusual feature of this stadium is that the grass pitch is grown outside of the stadium and is brought in when needed, allowing the stadium to be used for other events. Periodically, a falcon is flown around the stadium to keep Cardiff's pigeon population at bay.
GETTING THERE: Cardiff Central station is only a few minute’s walk from the stadium, directly behind the South Stand. The stadium is well signposted from the M4 and surrounding routes, with electronic signs advising which junction to take. The junction exiting the M4 into Cardiff (up to four junctions are used from 29-33) will depend on which Park & Ride scheme you use, and depending on whether you are going by coach or car.
cardiff SECRET TIP: Don’t go by car as parking near the stadium is limited. Go by coach or rail instead or share a car with others if you really have to drive.
Famous for hosting: 1960 Olympics, U2 concert
Italy joined the Six Nations Championship in 2000, and chose Stadio Flaminio to host its home internationals ahead of rival venues in rugby-mad Bologna, Genoa and Padova. It was built in 1959 ahead of the 1960 Rome Olympics. Italy’s first Six Nations victory came in its debut year with a 34-20 win over Scotland.
It is under-going renovation, but the Italian Rugby Federation has
said that, despite work continuing on the stadium, games would not be played anywhere else. The first rugby international played there was against France back in 1935, and ended in a 44-6 drubbing by a France XV. Italy’s biggest win there was 22-3 against Romania in October 1992.
Enterprising Italians set up temporary bars near the stadium to cater for their visitors’ insatiable thirst. Although British-style public drinking is really not socially acceptable in Italy, there is a degree of acceptance of polite visiting rugby fans (kilted Scots go down particularly well in Rome, especially if they bring bagpipes).
The main international airport is Fiumicino, also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport, which has one international and one domestic terminal. The easiest and cheapest way into town from Fiumicino is via the hourly, non-stop, first-class train from the airport station.
GETTING THERE: Reaching the ground is quite straightforward. Situated about three kilometres from central Rome, you can travel to the stadium by taking the underground Line A to the Flaminio station. From there it is a 15-minute walk to the ground. Most local fans advise against driving or catching a bus, as traffic is hectic at the best of times.
rome SECRET TIP: If you’re in Rome for a sporting weekend, it is worth considering joining many of your fellow fans and going to a soccer game at the Stadio Olimpico for an extra dose of Italian passion. On rugby weekends there are usually clusters of overseas fans at Lazio or Roma matches.
Pictures PA Photos