All sports have sacred meeting grounds where players and fans gather to bear witness to the spectacle of their cherished pastime. Athletes have their track, cricket players have their cricket pitch/field and like soccer, rugby has its stadiums. As the birthplace of rugby, the UK has some of the most spectacular rugby stadiums in the world, some of which are a significant part of its history and symbols of its perseverance and growth over the ages. Despite their importance, these stadiums rarely receive the recognition they deserve, which is in itself a disservice.
How many rugby stadiums are there in the UK? There are 14 main rugby stadiums in the UK. Of the 14 stadiums, 12 are the home grounds of teams in Premiership Rugby. There are however a number of other average to small-sized stadiums for lower tiers. Case in point, there are presently another 16 stadiums used by teams in the RFU Championship and National League 1 – the second and third tiers of rugby union competitions respectively.
Born Out of Adversity
A quick look at rugby stadiums in the UK reveals that almost all of them were built in the 20th century. To properly appreciate this fact, one needs carefully consider the events that surrounded the formation and expansion of rugby as a sport.
After being invented by William Webb Ellis in 1823, rugby existed as one of the codes of football until 1863 when England‘s soccer governing body, the Football Association (FA) was formed over a series of meetings.
As part of the laws that were drafted at the time, elements associated with rugby like handling the ball, tripping, holding, hacking (kicking at an opponent’s shins), and obstructing were outlawed over the first three to four meetings – a decision that did not settle well with rugby clubs at the time.
The decision alienated rugby clubs who broke away led by Blackheath Football Club through its then representative and the FA’s first treasurer Francis Maule Campbell, after a motion he raised in a subsequent meeting to have the elements reinstated was dismissed.
The secession fueled the emergence of many rugby before the end of the same decade. In January 1871, rugby clubs held a meeting of their own that involved 21 founding clubs and schools, effectively creating their governing body – the Rugby Football Union (RFU).
The RFU’s first set of laws was drafted and subsequently passed on June 1871. Once rugby has attained its “independence” and gained its identity as its own sport, the next step became having its own grounds to further distinguish it from football. The RFU also had great success hosting tests on stadiums like the Crystal Palace Sports Centre prompting them to want to invest in their own.
As was previously mentioned, there are 14 first-tier rugby union stadiums in England. They are Twickenham Stadium, Ashton Gate, Welford Road, Coventry Building Society Arena, Kingsholm Stadium, Brentford Community Stadium, and Franklin’s Garden.
Others in the list include Recreation Ground, Twickenham’s Stoop, Sixways Stadium, Sandy Park, Allianz Park, AJ Bell Stadium, and Kingston Park. Though the above-mentioned stadia primarily host rugby union matches, a number also host matches for other sports.
The newest stadium of the lot – the Brentford Community Stadium – also hosts English Premier League side Brentford Football Club. Ashton Gate and Coventry Building Society Arena also host second-tier soccer sides Bristol City and Coventry City while primarily hosting the Bristol Bears and Wasps rugby union clubs respectively.
What Is the Biggest Rugby Stadium in the UK?
The biggest rugby stadium in the UK is Twickenham Stadium. The all-seater stadium can comfortably house a mind-boggling 82,000 rugby union fans and is both owned by and the headquarters of the RFU.
Aside from being the home ground of the England national rugby union team, the grounds also have a number of American Football games as well as concerts for a number of top artists. The stadium is also the second largest in the UK behind only Wembley Stadium and the fourth largest stadium in Europe behind Wembley, Camp Nou, and Croke Park.
Nicknamed “the Home of England Rugby”, Twickenham hosts the final of Premiership Rugby, the London leg of both the World Rugby Sevens Series, and partially hosts the same leg of the World Rugby Women’s Seven series.
The Cabbage patch has also hosted fixtures for the Champions Cup, the Heineken Cup, the Middlesex Sevens, and the Anglo-Welsh Cup. The ground for the stadium was bought by the RFU in 1907 with construction beginning the same year.
It has been in operation since October 1909 and is famous for hosting the finals of the 1991 and 2015 Rugby World Cup. Twickenham also hosted three pool matches, two semi-final fixtures, and a Quarter-final playoff clash against England and Fiji during the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
What Is the Oldest Rugby Stadium?
The oldest rugby stadium was Lansdowne Road. At its height, the facility was able to host a little over 49,000 spectators and had a seating capacity of 25,000. The stadium was opened in 1872 and operated for 134 years until its closure in December 2006.
Lansdowne Road was demolished the next year to pave way for the construction of Aviva Stadium – a rugby and football all-seater facility with a capacity of 50,000. The then-new stadium opened in 2010.
A significant part of rugby history, Lansdowne Road first hosted a test match in late 1876 – a fixture between provincial rugby union side Leinster and Ulster. It is recognized as the oldest rugby stadium for hosting its first international fixture in March 1878 against England. Other notable events to be held at the venue were the 1999 and 2003 Heineken Cup finals.
Stadiums in Scotland and Wales
As part of the larger United Kingdom, Scotland also has a significant rugby presence and currently has 28 rugby union stadiums. Their most popular stadium is undoubtedly Murrayfield Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 67,144 and is owned and managed by the Scottish Rugby Union.
On the other hand, Wales has 22 rugby union stadiums. A handful of the stadiums however double up as venues for soccer and cricket. Of the lot, the Millennium Stadium is their largest with a capacity of 74,500.