Try a Rugby Inspired Road Trip
Don’t expect a quiet occasion. The red dragons of Wales welcome Stuart Lancaster’s England to their lair at the Millennium Stadium this Friday night – with both sides looking to slay. The last official “conflict” between the two countries may have been way back in the 1400s, but there’s little love lost on the pitch. Fans will be streaming to Cardiff from all corners, but this 175-mile road trip sets out a fitting route to the city: a car journey from the home of English rugby to the home of Welsh rugby.
It’s 105 years since the newly constructed Twickenham rugby ground held its first international fixture. The two teams that day? England and Wales. Things have moved on apace: the capacity in 1910 was 20,000, a figure which has now more than quadrupled to 82,000. Today’s stadium, which hosts the World Cup Final in October, also plays home to the World Rugby Museum – open every day bar Mondays. Away from the ground, try seasonal British dishes at Arthur’s On The Green or call in at The White Swan on the banks of the Thames.
Oxford’s rugby legacy is often overlooked. As well as being the current home of London Welsh, the city has also contested the fiercely competitive University Varsity Match since 1872 with their Cambridge University rivals. Its colleges have given an education to the likes of Stuart Barnes, Gareth Davies and All Black captain David Kirk. Even William Webb Ellis – the alleged inventor of rugby itself – studied at Oxford University. Two tips? Catch the current William Blake exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum – it’s more than 200 years since he wrote patriotic anthem “Jerusalem” – and pick up artisan foods at the Covered Market.
Home to one of Europe’s most vociferously followed club sides, Gloucester is very much a rugby city. Its Kingsholm Stadium has been standing since 1891, and hosts no less than four pool games during this year’s World Cup. Pay a visit to Gloucester Cathedral, not only a majestic building but a setting in the Harry Potter films (quick bit of trivia: giant England lock Martin Bayfield played Hagrid’s body double). Elsewhere, book a table at Aroma for one of the city’s best curries.
Newport Gwent Dragons are one the four Welsh teams that compete in the Pro12 League, supplying several players to the country’s current Six Nations squad. And the city has further sporting claim to fame thanks to the Celtic Manor Resort, host venue of the 2010 Ryder Cup. The five-star resort remains a superb place for a round – or fine dining, if you’re so inclined. Newport itself, which sits close to the Severn Bridge, has a heritage dating back to Roman times.
The Millennium Stadium has often been described as one of the world’s best rugby grounds, and with good reason. Not only is it a spectacle in its own right – it holds 74,500 and generates a fiery atmosphere – it also sits surrounded by the shopping lanes, cafes and restaurants of the centre. It’s a part of the city in more ways than one. Things to do before or after the game? Swap tries for Time Lords at the Doctor Who Experience, or spend some time at 19th-century inn The Old Arcade, where the walls are covered in rugby memorabilia and old press clippings. What the papers will be saying the morning after the match, of course, remains to be seen…