The World's Most Iconic Rugby Grounds
Rugby is a sport that has always embraced tradition, and the heavy emphasis it has always put on the social side—nowadays mostly in the amateur ranks—has seen many of its great venues take on iconic status over the years.
Rugby fans enjoy themselves and tend to make the occasion of supporting their team home and away one to experience.
The end result is an atmosphere that is unique in the sporting world. It's different from the brilliant atmosphere of football matches, perhaps because winning has never been the only thing that matters for fans.
Fans make the grounds, so it is not coincidence that most of the grounds on this list are in Europe, where the annual Six Nations pilgrimage has created its own culture within the sport.
Here is a list of iconic grounds that have given so many memories over the years, in no particular order except for the Millennium Stadium: the greatest stadium in rugby, perhaps in the world.
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The Welsh Rugby Union did an amazing job transferring the unique atmosphere of the old Cardiff Arms Park to the state-of-the-art Millennium Stadium.
No difficult and awkward journeys in and out of a city to get to this cathedral of rugby, as it is bang in the middle of Cardiff, close to all the watering holes and eateries for ravenous fans.
The stadium itself offers a great viewing experience as all seats feel close to the action, and the acoustics are second to none. A strong choral tradition in Wales obviously helps.
To be present before a Wales international and to hear the Welsh national anthem delivered in its full glory by 74,500 fans is the finest experience in sport. No question.
While Twickenham does not quite have the convenience of the Millennium Stadium, it is still fairly accessible, and the bars and restaurants of Richmond have entertained fans from across the world for more than 100 years.
Nicknamed the "Cabbage Patch" due to the ground's agricultural heritage, Twickenham nowadays is a spanking 82,000-seat giant of a stadium.
Non-English fans love visiting Twickenham because it offers the chance of taking the popular scalp of the English—many have done so over the years—and because London is one of the world's great cities.
Twickenham became a fortress under Sir Clive Woodward, and the current team are working hard to recapture that same reputation.
The singing may not quite have the same glorious harmony of the Welsh, but "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" certainly packs a punch, with the loudest renditions usually saved for the visits of France and New Zealand.
Stadio Flaminio, Rome
Currently undergoing a refurbishment (it had to happen), the Stadio Flaminio in Rome lives in the memory of anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting it.
It may have resembled a Meccano model in places, and it may have been nigh-on impossible to locate your seat, but once inside it offered a fabulous experience.
Obviously the incredible pasta washed down by affordable chianti was part and parcel of the Italian rugby experience, which in many ways harked back to the amateur days.
And then there is the Italian national anthem. Of all the great anthems, "Il Canto degli Italiani" is the only one that sounds better when shouted, at the top of one's lungs if possible. And its crescendo makes for a quite brilliant buildup to the game.
Hong Kong National Stadium
Compared to some of the giant structures that host rugby games across the world, the National Stadium in Hong Kong hardly compares favourably, especially when you consider the age-old problems it has had with its pitch.
And yet this 40,000-seat venue at the foot of the slopes above Causeway Bay is home to one of the great annual rugby celebrations, the legendary Hong Kong Sevens.
In engineering terms, it is no world-beater, though access to food and beverage on its concourse is excellent, as is the beer that is delivered right to your seat.
If you really want a party, then the South Stand is the place to be. If you suffer from vertigo, avoid the sheer upper tiers.
It has hosted Bledisloe Cup games, the Lions and regular Premiership football teams, but it is for the Sevens that is has become renowned, as fans of all ages embrace the fancy dress culture of this three-day rugby jamboree. Exhausting.
Carisbrook, New Zealand
A former domestic and Test rugby venue in Dunedin, Carisbrook also hosted cricket and football matches, while Joe Cocker also got by with a little help from his friends at the 30,000-seater located at the foot of The Glen valley.
But it was for rugby it was best known, and it became so infamous for visiting sides that it became nicknamed "The House of Pain." Even training there could be miserable, and it was not unknown for a player to wear a wetsuit under his jersey to try to keep warm.
Not only did they have to face the power of New Zealand, they also faced the notorious weather conditions, and for international players, playing at the Brook became a right of passage.
The old stadium, which opened in 1883, proved to be as resilient as it was inhospitable, as it survived plans to tear it down three times.
According to the team's official website, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry described the stadium as "a special ground in New Zealand" with a "very vocal, and very supportive" crowd that was in close proximity to the action on the pitch.
The Brook was finally closed in June 2011 after a match between the All Blacks and Fiji to raise funds for the Christchurch earthquake appeal, but will forever hold a special place in the history of New Zealand rugby.
Like the Brook, Murrayfield is also exposed to the elements, and it is certainly the most northern of the world's great rugby venues.
A must-stop venue on the annual Six Nations pilgrimage, the 67,000-seat stadium sits on the outskirts of Edinburgh and has played host to all the major rugby-playing nations since it opened in 1925.
Scotland have not fared so well in recent years, but there was a time when a visit to Murrayfield represented a formidable challenge.
Indeed, had it not been for the great Gavin Hastings missing a sitter of a penalty at Murrayfield, Scotland would have beaten the "Auld Enemy" England and secured a spot in the 1991 World Cup final.
It may be cold in Edinburgh, but a capacity crowd singing "Flower of Scotland" is guaranteed to warm the cockles of any visiting heart.
Perhaps its greatest rendition came in 1990 when Scotland beat the heavily fancied English to secure the Six Nations Grand Slam—one of the great occasions in Scottish sporting history.