Six Nations Venues
Part of the greatness of the Six Nations championship is its compactness – six teams each playing five matches in seven weeks, at six venues which are not too far apart.
The longest journey is from Edinburgh to Rome and it takes less than three hours’ flying time, a bit more than Cape Town to Durban , a bit less than Sydney to Auckland and a lot less than Perth to Sydney. The cultures may be different, but the rugby will be the same and so will the cheerfulness of the spectators, more and more in fancy dress and party mode.
The five venues are Stade de France in Paris, Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Stadio Olímpico in Rome, Twickenham in London and Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
We give some details of age and history, starting with the oldest.
They are all modern buildings but we shall look to location for age.
The 2019 Fixtures by venue
Stade de France
France vs Wales
France vs Scotland
Scotland vs Italy
Scotland vs Ireland
Scotland vs Wales
Ireland vs England
Ireland vs France
Italy vs Wales
Italy vs Ireland
Italy vs France
England vs France
England vs Italy
England vs Scotland
Wales vs England
Wales vs Ireland
1. Aviva Stadium, a.k.a. Lansdowne Road
Capacity: 51 700
1st Test 1884
It’s a modern building on an old bit of rugby land. In fact it is the oldest venue for a rugby international in the rugby world – dating back to 1874.
It was not Ireland’s first or only Test venue but it soon settled down to take the prime place. The first Irish Test – then in the Four Nations – was at the Northern Ireland Football Club Ground at Ormeau in Belfast, when Scotland came across the sea to beat Ireland. It was still Four Nations in 1884 when England beat Ireland in Dublin at the club in Lansdowne Road.
The next oldest ground still a venue for rugby Tests is Newlands – since 1891.
Ireland’s first win at Lansdowne Road was over England in 1887. The Six Nations opening match at the ground in Lansdowne Road in 2019 will be against England.
Because it was situated in Lansdowne Road, the ground was called Lansdowne Road. Grounds were named from the place where they were – Twickenham, Murrayfield, Newlands, Eden Park, Ballymore for example. The club is still called Lansdowne Road but, as professional rugby grubs for money, a business firm now holds the title, as happens at BT Murrayfield and Principality Stadium in Cardiff and also Emirates Park in Johannesburg, Westpac Stadium in Wellington and Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
When Lansdowne Road was pulled down in 2007, Ireland played its Tests at Croke Park. Then when the super new stadium was opened in 2010, the insurance giant Aviva paid up for the naming rights.
2. Principality Stadium
Capacity: 74 500
Wales hosted its first Test at St Helen’s Ground in Swansea, its second at Rodney Parade in Newport and its third – in 1884 – at Cardiff Arms Park – the ground named for the pub nearby, a descendant of a 17th century hostelry built there in the reign of Charlkes I. Cardiff Arms Park is one of the most famous names in rugby football with a tradition of heroism. But then it was pushed aside for the nearby National Stadium in 1969 which in turn was demolished to make way for the modern Principality Stadium – near but not on the plot of Cardiff Arms Park which still plays hosts to rugby matches.
In fact on 24 February 2019 there will be a Six Nations match at Cardiff Arms Park when Wales Women play England Women. The men’s match will happen slightly to the south at Principality Stadium, a.k.a. Millennium Stadium, named for the arrival of the new century..
Wales is a principality but in this case it is a Cardiff building society that holds the title. The stadium was opened in 1999 as the Millennium, Stadium but in 2016 it became the Principality Stadium.
It is the only Six Nations ground where the weather does not matter. This is because it is the only stadium with a retractable roof. Let the rain fall or the wind blow, the rugby will be dry and wind-free.
Capacity: 82 000
England played international matches in England at various venues. The first international played in England was at Kennington Oval in 1872 – a 0-0 draw with Scotland. Other venues include Whalley Range in Manchester, Cardigan Fields and Headingley in Leeds, the Rectory Field in Blackheath, Crown Flatt in Dewsbury, Kingsholme in Gloucester, the Athletic Ground in Richmond, Welford Road in Leicester, Ashton Gate in Bristol and Crystal Palace.
Then an RFU committee member, Billy Williams was given the job of finding a home for England’s rugby. He identified market gardens and orchards in Twickenham in southwest London, which is why the ground is sometimes referred to as Billy Williams’s cabbage patch.
First match: 2 October 1909 when Harlequins beat Richmond 14-10.
First Test: 15 January 1910 when England beat Wales 11-6.
The first visiting team to win at Twickenham was the Springboks on 4 January 1913 when the visitors won 9-3.
One sometimes hears Twickenham referred to as HQ and the cradle of rugby. It may well be true that it is now the headquarters of English rugby, certainly not the headquarters of world rugby and not the cradle of anybody’s rugby.
That said, it is a great ground to visit and an even greater ground to play on. The ceremonies there are superb.
Capacity: Capacity: 67 144
The first rugby international ever was played in Scotland – in Raeburn Place in Edinburgh when Scotland won by a goal and a try to a try.
Raeburn Place is still in use as the home ground of the Edinburgh Academicals. It continued to be used, along with Glasgow’s Hampden Park, for big matches, till first Powderhall and then in 1899 Inverleith took over. Then in 1925, Scotland got a bigger home in Murrayfield, an Edinburgh suburb. When the Scottish Rugby Union bought the ground in 1925, it was a polo club.
In 1925, Scotland played its first home Five Nations match of the season against France at Inverleith. It’s other Five Nations match was against England on 21 March 1925. The occasion was used to open Murrayfield and the Scots celebrated by winning 14-11. That year, for the first time, Scotland won a Grand Slam.
Scotland is the coldest of the Six Nations but there is never a fear of not being able to play at Murrayfield for the ground has undersurface heating. In addition, the surface is a mixture of grass and artificial fibres.
5. Stadio Olimpico
Capacity: 70 634
Work on Rome’s biggest stadium started small in 1901. The first big development of the stadium was in the 1930s when Mussolini was in command, and development, restructuring and expansion have occurred from time to time since. It is, as the name suggests, the property of Italy’s national Olympic committee.
The stadium is older than Italy’s international rugby. After all Italy first played a Test in 1929 when Spain beat them in Barcelona. The next year Italy won its first Test ever, beating Spain 3-0 in Milan. In 2000 Italy played its first Six Nations match, losing to Scotland 34-20 at Stadio Flaminio in Rome. It won its first Six Nations match when it beat Wales 30-22 at Stadio Flaminio in 2003.
Municipally owned, Stadio Flaminio remained the venue for Italy’s Six Nations matches until 2011. Size mattered, and in 2012 Italy moved its Six Nations matches to Stadio Olimpico.
The first Six Nations Italy played in the stadium, was a promising defeat when they lost 19-15 to England. Then, alleluia, they won their second match in the stadium, beating Scotland 13-6. The next year they beat France and Ireland in the stadium.
The crowds, over 60 000, have justified the move from Stadio Flaminio with its 42 000 seats. Rome is a popular venue, the matches willed with good cheer.
The crowds have grown
6. France: Stade de France, Paris
Capacity: 81 338
Stade de France is a multipurpose stadium built for the 1995 soccer World Cup.
Like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but much more so than the other three, France has played its Tests in many venues though Paris has been the most important. France has played other countries in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille at its Vélodrome, Nantes, Bayonne, Tarbes, Béziers, Clermont-Ferrand, Montauban, Agen, Lille, Narbonne, Lourdes, Lens, Brive, Valence, Le Havre, Chambéry, Grenoble, Toulon, Auch, Montpellier, Toulon, Saint Etienne and Besançon up near Switzerland.
In Paris, the first Test was played in Parc des Princes, against New Zealand. That was on 1 January 1906. In 1908 France played England at Stade Yves du Manoir in the suburb of Colombes.
In 1910 the Four Nations became the Five Nations with the inclusion of France who ended winless with the wooden spoon. They played two matches in Paris that year, both at Parc des Princes, the first against England, the second against Ireland.
The Paris venue was for many years either Parc des Princes or Colombes. The last time Colombes was used was 26 February 1972 when France beat England 37-12. The last Test at Parc des Princes was between France and South Africa in 1997 when the Springboks won 52-10.
The next year Stade de France was opened in the northern suburb of St Denis. In the first Test there, on 7 February 1998, France beat England 24-17.