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Where is the best rugby pitch in the world?

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John Beattie | 17:54 UK time, Sunday, 19 December 2010

This week's Christmas question is - what's the best rugby pitch in the world? A hint - it's in the UK, there's lovely.

Let's not even mention summer rugby. Why are we playing, or trying to play, at this time of year? Madness.

The reason I ask about your favourite ground is that my neighbouring rugby club hosted a lunch (yes, games were off) and the two guests were John Barclay and Graeme Morrison from the Scotland rugby team.

There were questions like: "Are either of you single as I have a 23-year-old daughter?...", and "is rugby as much fun as it used to be?". Which was possibly a hint that, back in the day, many parents would lock up their 23-year-old daughters to ensure they never met rugby players.

Yes, rugby is now an attractive professional proposition for potential fathers in law.

Anyway, another questioner asked the players as to their favourite ground. And they agreed. And the other former international rugby players in the room agreed with them too. Astonishing.

Like you, I've seen some lovely grounds. Mull Rugby Club, looking to the mainland across the sea, is stunning. I've played in Orkney, which was incredible. Then again, there's Melrose with the Greenyards as beautiful as anywhere in the spring. Add to that Jedforest, Highland in Inverness and, oh I could go on.

The old Balgray ground in Glasgow's West End, Inverlieth in Edinburgh, where the first international game took place in 1871, and, of course, countless pitches that have become housing estates and I cite among them Glasgow University's pitches and running track at Anniesland - now covered by detached houses and flats.

I once went to a rowdy dinner there as a guest. The only time I have heard a chairman say: "Right, time to have a post-dinner break to clear soup and food off the walls and ceiling!"

Up a level, there were countless stunning rugby grounds in South Africa, from Natal to Newlands. New Zealand's grounds were beautiful with, I think, North Auckland a natural bowl with a massive grassy terrace. The old Lansdowne Road was wonderful - likewise Parc des Princes and, of course, Twickenham with its history.

You have to understand that I realise that to play at these places was, well, it was an honour.

The old Murrayfield with its terraces and schoolboy seats was paradise for a young lad who would later jump on a train with a crowd of 18-year-olds in the hope of being fed red wine by friendly Frenchmen on the terraces, or beer by the English.

That was followed by the ritual failure to discover 23-year-old girls who had been allowed to go to Murrayfield too - and then it was a mad dash for the last train home after trying to visit most of the hostelries in Rose Street.

I can't begin to tell you what it was like to be a spectator 30 years ago.

But there is one country in the UK where rugby is embedded in culture more than any other. It's a place where legends ran amok in the 1970s, where the singing of the national anthem used to, and still does, make visiting players cry and where, for a while, they would dig deep underground and there, as if by magic, they once found Barry John. Yes, that place is Wales.

The best rugby pitch in my generation was the old Cardiff Arms Park (pictured) and, for the young guns of today, it's the same place, the Millennium Stadium. Atmosphere, tradition, the lot.

Roof open or roof closed, take a bow Wales and it's people - yours is the best place to play rugby, in the world. To play on the pitch, or to be around Cardiff on international day, is still a heady blend of meeting people from different parts of the country and a little bit of rugby madness.

Happy Christmas to you all. We are so lucky to be part of this great game. I love it. My New Year's wish would be to be transported back to being 22, just for one more day, and playing another game in Cardiff.

Oh, and the Six Nations are just around the corner.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi John,

    As ever a good article. However you mention that the first International was played at "Inverleith" (home of Stewarts Melville FP). You are wrong as the 1st international was played at Raeburn Place home of Edinburgh Accies not far from Inverleith but different. You obviously never graced that venue.

  • Comment number 2.

    The best rugby pitch? Surely you mean the best rugby venue? The pitch at the Millenium stadium has never been good, with the surface frequently coming in for criticism from those who play on it. Having said that, I couldn't agree more with you about Jed - it's a fabulous wee ground.

  • Comment number 3.

    Best pitch? - definitely Grangemeouth...

  • Comment number 4.

    I suppose everyone will nominate their own club's pitch and I am no different. The hallowed turf of Station Park in St Andrews, the home of Madras RFC is flat and has a great covering of grass; is very rarely frosted; is good enough for Andy McRobinson and the lads. It's so good that other clubs in the area often phone up to borrow a pitch as their own pitches are unplayable.

    Up the road, the University pitch is a fantastic surface too.

  • Comment number 5.

    Millenium is the best stadium, but the playing surface is diabolical.

  • Comment number 6.

    Parc y Scarlets is the best all round venue and pitch.

    I'm not biased.

  • Comment number 7.

    Mike MS I am so sorry!

    Stuart_72 - yes, best venue.

    Grangemouth????

    Methilmilandy - Madras great open venue

    OwainGlyndwr - never played at Parc y Scarlets but it looks great on tv

  • Comment number 8.

    Only played at Grangemouth a couple of times but the six inches of mud round your ankles slowed everyone else down to my pace.

  • Comment number 9.

    John,

    Only played in Orkney once, it was January and I stood on the wing in a howling gale watching for the most part - not one of my fondest rugby memories. The night out after the game, however, that was another story. They certainly know how to host a drinking session in Orkney.

    I've played at the Madras pitches a few times (once after we were frosted over and the opposition were too so we played it on the neutral park). Great place to play. Two overriding memories, getting taken to the cleaners for 70 mins by a Scotland u17 winger and another on a sunny day when the Leuchars Air Show was on (probably shoud've been more focussed on the game).

  • Comment number 10.

    Never played at Grangemouth but did play at Hughenden once with Grangemouth playing on another pitch. One of the Grangemouth players lived back in Edinburgh so we gave him a lift on the bus. As was standard we stopped off in Great Western Road for a beer stop. Everyone got back on and after a quick head count we headed off. Of course we only checked that we had the same number of people that we came with but the Grangemouth player should have made it one more... we drove off with one of our own players running down the street after the bus (not that we noticed!) Needless to say when we got to back to Edinburgh there he was in the pub waiting on us having got the (much faster) train back instead! I'd actually pick Hughenden as my top ground that I've played at (although not because of that incident!)

  • Comment number 11.

    John you've given a couple of places in the Borders a mention but I have to say that surely the Borders as an area, is a pretty special place to play in any case. The Grrenyards and Riverside are rightly mentioned a they are very picturesque places for a game of rugby but even in the towns of Hawick or Selkirk's Philiphaugh is worthy of mention. On a smaller scale, playing at a sunny Haugh at Earlston or even at Walkerburn on the banks of the Tweed; Caberston Haugh is a setting that I'd argue is as picturesque and emotional as a typical Southern Welsh park.

    One of the Borders strong points is the culture and history of rugby there, which can even make playing at holes such as Netherdale or Poynder Park quite pleasing. However, this is something that Wales has in abundance as well. I've been lucky enough to play at the ground of Treherbert in Rhondda, South Wales and where the rugby ground is cut halfway up the side of the valley itself. A stunning setting and the villagers are wonderful as well.

    Anyway, I am ridiculously biased as a Borderer and not that well travelled in rugby. However, I echo your comments on watching rugby at Cardiff but personally, there's not much that beats watching a match at home in Murrayfield.

  • Comment number 12.

    John, you mention Balgray. I have played there a couple of times playing Kelvinside Academy. What a beautiful pitch. No pitch at school rugby ever competed with Balgray.

  • Comment number 13.

    Obviously, the best pitch will go with the best Rugby party memories, sorry to be long and maybe boring.

    Lansdowne Road:
    A five Nations game at Lansdowne Road in February 20 years ago, my friend broke his car before the trip.
    So, no choice, we went to Cherbourg on my motorbike Honda Transalp, we felt a bit weird, only one bike on the Irish ferry boat!
    Arrived in Ireland, we spend more time at customs that other visitors, the police checked identity and everything in our wee luggage.
    We paid 3 quid to be behind the posts, it was a terrace, what an atmosphere, and a bit afraid when we felt the pressure of bodies when the game was close.
    A great fun in Dublin, beers in Ireland were so cheap at this time, good chats with people admiring my lovely 600 Transalp front of pubs.

    Parc des Princes(Stade de France too big and not in the Centre)
    What a cauldron! in the City!
    I remember A FAMOUS game, France V Scotland 21 – 23 in 1995.
    My wife (Glaswegian) did not have a “clue” about Rugby, but she was so proud this time after the Toony chistera giving Hasting try in the 77’.

    The Greenyards and Netherdale
    A trip with my wife (sorry to mention my “private life” again) in the Borders, years ago, the visit was about “a promenade” in the area, enjoy the scenery, visit some castles, towns, and the famous Border abbeys, something cultural.
    At this time no GPS; arrived in Galashiels I followed the sign for Netherdale, stopped the car front of the Rugby club (my wife: What are we doing here????, I’m staying in the car)
    I said, I’ll have a quick tour, insisting Rugby is a big part of the culture in the Borders.
    I was lucky enough, welcomed by a friendly club member, visited the clubhouse and facilities, saw the caps of the International Borderers, etc…
    The guy offered me a Red Triangle tie, the club of Toony, I was so excited.
    A good memory some years afterwards, after a game between the Borders V Glasgow, by chance I met John Jeffreys in the toilets, and saw Telfer, so easy to approach people here compare to France.

    The same cultural artifice when arrived in Melrose, this is where the 7’s was born (my wife: oh really…), the Greenyards (you feel something special there).

    Murrayfield
    Amazing atmosphere against Australia 2 years ago

    Hughenden
    I enjoyed games at this place on the terrace, it was quite funny to listen to the jokes and talks from the Glaswegians folks there, especially a game against Edinburgh, Blackadder, Nicol, and snowy were still playing.

  • Comment number 14.

    John,

    My recollection of Mull includes clearing some, but not all, of the cowpats off the pitch before the game, changing in the Hotel (a bit of a luxury compared to the home team changing) and thinking I had damaged my kidneys (eaten too much beetroot actually).

    Murrayfield's old terracing holds some great memories, in particular the volume of bodies, usually against Wales, which meant you moved considerable distances around without touching the ground much.

    I think the central location of the Millennium Stadium adds massively to the aura.

    The best small pitches around, though, are where you have to decide whether to use the hill or the wind in the first half...

  • Comment number 15.

    John
    I know you shouldnt be biased, but our very own New Anniesland is the greatest playing surface in Scotland, having played all over Scotland and at some great places, coming back to the wide expansed of The hallowed turf is unbeatable, just sorry the annual boxing day game is off, could have been a belter this year!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree with Jagsman, the groundstaff there manage to make it playable (and amazing to play on) even during the weekends in December and January when most other pitches have been ruled out (albeit not this winter......)

    Fletcher's Fields Toronto is a good place to watch and play rugby in the summer months also....

  • Comment number 17.

    Wade Academy in Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife brings back memories of a great surface to play on and a smashing fish supper after it.

    The worst...well there are lots but generally if there was a hot pie and a cold beer to be had after the game I quickly forgot about things like cow pats, dog poo and broken glass etc on the pitch. In fact most of my rugby memories seem to revolve around post match hospitality and drunken bus trips!

    As for top flight grounds I've got to agree that the old Arms Park and the new Milleniun stadium are a class apart although I've not been to Croke Park which does look quite a place to play on the TV.

  • Comment number 18.

    The best rugby (sevens) ground is of course So Kon Poo - also know as the Hong Kong Stadium which holds the IRB sevens tournament. The new stadium was constructed in just a year so that the annual tournament didn't miss a beat!!
    Aw ra bess

  • Comment number 19.

    so what is the conclusion... grangemouth?

  • Comment number 20.

    A Rome international is always a great experience. Cardiff is just a special place to enjoy rugby union. It is always a wonderful atmosphere. For sheer scenic splendour, though, sitting at the side of the pitch in Rarotonga, sipping from a coconut and watching finals day of the Cook Islands Sevens will take a bit of beating for me!

 

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