One of the great things about rugby is the crowd. No matter where you are or who’s playing, you can stand side by side the opposing supporters and enjoy the match, avec a pint and something that resembles a pie.
In fact, the crowds at a rugby match are so brilliant, even someone who has no interest in rugby can be truly entertained (and reduced to tears in some cases) by the fans alone, as Mexican Waves, impromptu chants, and general camaraderie graces stadiums around the world.
So, in celebration of rugby’s wondrous supporters, I thought I’d look at some of the best atmospheres in Northern Hemisphere rugby (mainly due to the fact I’ve never attended a game in the South) – there are so many, so I’ve had to be rather ruthless in my choices. No doubt there’ll be some of you who would have chosen differently…
In no particular order…
Stade de France
This futuristic theatre, which looks more like something out of Star Wars than your usual rugby ground, is absolutely incredible when Le Marseillaisis being sung by a capacity crowd. It’s also extremely fun to attend a game when France are playing well, as the noise is deafening; especially the whistling. However, if France are playing poorly (which has been rather frequent in recent times) then the place can fall quiet, like a silent protest by the fans, demanding their team play better.
This is a venue, steeped in Munster history and regarded as one of the spiritual homes of the game. There’s an extremely raw feel to it, which is a great contrast to some of the plush grounds you can visit in the Southern Hemisphere. At Thomand Park, It’s all about the rugby. The amazing sound that the crowd produces can be intimidating for any away player, and as for the deafening silence, given out of respect to kickers...shivers. The contrast creates an extremely eerie atmosphere. The fact Munster went 12 years unbeaten here, shows the power of the ground.
Regarded by many as the world’s best rugby stadium, this fortress can bring even the toughest rugby nut, to their knees, due to the passion and pride of the Welsh rugby crowd. The national anthem echoes around the stadium like a symphony of national pride and is proof that rugby is so much more than just a sport to the Welsh. What’s more, it’s the focal point of Cardiff, so the cheers and gasps of the stadium can be heard throughout the city…not that anyone will be on the streets; instead, they’ll be glued to a screen somewhere.
Admittedly, this ground has its faults, most noticeably the running track which creates a rather large void between one stand and the pitch. Yet, as a Scot, it had to be included, and anyone who has been to a Scotland game, whether as a home or away supporter, will know they’ll be greeted with warmth…unless your English of course. The crowd may not have the same prowess as other grounds, in terms of noise decibels and stamina but it’s still a fantastic rugby experience. What’s more, the pies are epic!
Stade Felix Mayol
The smallest stadium on the list, although one of the larger rugby grounds in France. If Toulon are welcoming a heavyweight opponent, the matches are often moved to a larger, nearby football ground, which I see as quite a shame; the atmosphere created in the Mayol often dwarves that made in stadiums with a bigger capacity. It’s a cauldron of passionate fans who love to make noise and players who travel across from the Southern Hemisphere often don’t know what’s hit them when they play here.
One of the best grounds within English club rugby, and was only one of two given the chance to host fixtures at the recent RWC. If you haven’t been, I highly advise you try and get a ticket in the shed; the atmosphere is electric.