Rugby may not be as universal as football, but there are pockets of the world where fans live and breathe the sport; and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Whether you’re a longtime connoisseur of the game or don’t know your props from your wingers, watching a match in one of these destinations makes for a memorable night out, where dramatic, hard-fought matches unfold under the floodlights of fabled stadiums and passionate local supporters create a convivial atmosphere in the stands. From Tokyo to San Diego, here are seven amazing cities to watch rugby around the world.
Japanese fans proved themselves to be some of the best in rugby when they hosted the World Cup in 2019, and there are high-quality games on offer year-round in the Tokyo club scene. Japanese Top League teams have a habit of signing up legends of the game, like New Zealander Dan Carter and Aussie Matt Giteau, after they retire from international rugby, and there are several sides based in the capital.
Many matches are played at the iconic Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, a 15-minute metro journey from the neon thrills of Shibuya Crossing – the world’s busiest intersection. For cheap post-match food – and a taste of Tokyo’s quirky side – make the short walk to Genki Sushi; a seafood spot where dishes are delivered to customers via automated trains.
Scoring tickets: Tickets for Top League games cost between ¥1,500 and ¥3,000 and can normally be bought on the door, or on the Japanese Rugby Football Union website.
Rugby is the national sport of Wales and Cardiff is its heartland. Visit the city when the national team is playing at home and you will find the Welsh fans in full voice, with Max Boyce’s Hymns and Arias reverberating through the streets as fans surge out of city-centre pubs into the Principality Stadium, uniquely located slap bang in the centre of town.
But it’s not all about the international game here. In the shadow of the Principality is the characterful Cardiff Arms Park, where both the Cardiff Blues' men and women's teams play throughout the year.
Mingle with fans in nearby boozers before kick-off – Tiny Rebel for craft beer fans and City Arms for traditionalists – then make a reservation at charming Italian restaurant Casanova for after the final whistle, or, for something less formal, the Grazing Shed do cracking meat and veggie burgers.
Scoring tickets: Wales play in the Six Nations in February and March and usually host internationals in November too. Prices start at £60 and tickets can be bought on the Welsh Rugby Union website. Cardiff Blues play from October to May and you can buy an adult ticket for £26 on their website.
Wellington, New Zealand
If you want to watch rugby on your travels, you may as well see the best in the world playing it. The All Blacks are one of the most legendary teams in sport and they’re even harder to beat on home turf.
The city of Wellington usually hosts an international match every year, but you can also watch some of the New Zealand team in action for their clubs here. Super Rugby side Hurricanes play their matches at the Westpac Stadium, which is walking distance from the city centre. The stadium also hosts the Wellington Lions, who play in the Mitre 10 cup, and, in the women’s game, Wellington Pride (with tickets to both sometimes available as a double header).
After the game, stroll along Waterloo Quay to The Green Man Pub – a fan favourite for beers and burgers. Or, if you need to get away from the noise, seafood restaurant Whitebait is a more up-market option.
Scoring tickets: Tickets for Hurricanes games start at around $60 and can be bought on the Hurricanes website. Tickets to watch the All Blacks are about $70 (keep your eye on the Westpac Stadium rugby events page to find out when New Zealand will be playing there next). Tickets to Wellington games are also sold on the Westpac Stadium website.
Most of the time, Clermont, in central France, is a historic university town. On weekends, though, it comes alive as the home of Les Jaunards. Better known as ASM Clermont Auvergne, the team play in the Top 14, France’s best league, and their fans are second to none, with match days drawing thousands of blue-and-yellow-clad supporters to the city’s Place de Jaude to watch the action unfold on a huge screen, usually bathed in French sunshine.
If you’d prefer to be in the stands than with the crowds in the square, then plot a course for the Marcel Michelin stadium, which is a lovely atmospheric ground located within walking distance of the city centre. Set off early to take in the immersive ‘ASM Experience’, an eye-catching interactive rugby exhibition. After the game, choose one of the bars lining Place de la Victoire and take advantage of Clermont’s famously cheap beers.
Scoring tickets: Tickets are around €30 and can be purchased on the club’s ticketing website.
Cape Town, South Africa
In the shadow of Table Mountain, southeast of Cape Town city centre, sits Newlands Stadium, one of the oldest rugby stadiums in the world. With its heritage and magnificent setting, watching a game here is a special experience, and must-do for connoisseurs of the sport. The ground is the home of Super Rugby side Stormers, where a number of South Africa internationals play club rugby.
If it is a late kick-off, earn your matchday beers with a morning walk up the emblematic mountain itself, or mingle with friendly fellow fans in Cape Town institution the Fireman’s. After the game, there are plenty more pubs in the area or, to celebrate a home win in style, make a booking at Shortmarket Club in the centre of town for locally-sourced food served by white-jacketed waiters – fancy! The city’s award-winning Springbok Experience Rugby Museum sadly closed in early 2019, and the sporting memorabilia is yet to find a new home.
Scoring tickets: Tickets start at R160 for Stormers games and can be bought on the club website. Both the men and women's South Africa national teams also play matches at the Newlands Stadium, with tickets for both available on the SA Rugby website.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina may not be the most decorated of rugby nations, but that doesn’t seem to have diminished the enthusiasm of Argentinian fans: expect singing, jumping and shirts to be twirled above heads if you go to a game in the country’s capital, Buenos Aires. Several Argentine internationals play for Super Rugby side Jaguares, whose home games are held at the Jose Amalfitani stadium in the capital.
The stadium is out on the edge of the city, but is connected by train (via Liniers station) from all of Buenos Aires’ central neighbourhoods. After the match, head back into the city to experience the vibrant Palermo nightlife or the less touristy, more hip, vibe of Villa Crespo. If in doubt, follow the Argentinean fans because they are almost definitely going to want to continue the party post-match – especially if the home team win.
Scoring tickets: Tickets for Jaguares games are cheap, starting at AR$300, and you can get them on the club website or at several sales points around the city, details of which can be found on the website.
San Diego, USA
Rugby in America?! Admittedly, California’s sunny, beach-lined city of San Diego is associated more with surfing than egg-chasing, but some dedicated fans are helping foster a growing love for the sport in the city. This is helped by the addition of nearby Los Angeles as a host city for world sevens, a faster – and, some dare to say, more enjoyable – form of rugby with a party atmosphere in the stands.
If it’s just the XVs game you’re interested in, watch Major League Rugby side San Diego Legion play in the California sunshine at the quaint and intimate Torero Stadium – which also hosted matches for the international Women's Rugby Super Series in 2019.
There are often an array of San Diego’s finest food vendors at the ground, complemented by live music and a DJ, plus plenty of beer, so you basically have everything you need all in one place – that’s rugby done the American way!
Scoring tickets: World sevens usually takes place in Los Angeles at the end of February, with tickets starting at $120 for admission on both days of the tournament. Ticket information can be found on the LA sevens rugby website. Buy tickets for San Diego Legion games on the club’s website, from as little as $22.