There’s nowhere on earth like Cardiff on international rugby day. Yes, there are things which come close. We get pretty excited when our national football team is in town, or a boxing world title is at stake. It’s thrilling when Beyoncé or the Rolling Stones are rocking the city. But for a unique global cultural experience, it has to be rugby, it has to be the Principality Stadium, and it has to be Cardiff. There’s really nothing like it. And here’s how to make the most of it.
When does it happen?
There are usually four or five international rugby matches here every year. The Six Nations championship is the big one, happening every year around February/March. It’s competed by the top teams in Europe: Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy. There are friendlies at other times, and Autumn Internationals when Wales play the Southern Hemisphere big guns.
Get a ticket… if you can
There’s nothing like being able to say, ‘I was there’. Six Nations tickets are mostly distributed through rugby clubs, so your best chance of getting a ticket is by playing rugby, or making friends with someone who does. Inevitably, thousands of tickets end up on the secondary/hospitality markets, often at inflated prices – but if you’re prepared to pay, you’re in. Sometimes it’s possible to buy a ticket on the day – fans may have spares to sell (and true fans won’t charge an unfair price). The worst way to buy a ticket is from a street tout: the tickets may turn out to be invalid. Tickets for other games – Autumn Internationals and friendlies – are much easier to score: they’re often sold direct by the Welsh Rugby Union.
And if you can’t…
No problem. Plenty of ticketless fans travel to Cardiff to watch the game on big screens in pubs, bars and outdoor public spaces, just to enjoy the unique match-day atmosphere. Prepare to squeeze into a corner, find a spot with a decent view of the TV, and enjoy a friendly, raucous, beery ambience.
Inside the Principality Stadium
Most rugby fans, of all nationalities, agree that the Principality is the best rugby stadium in the world. It generates an atmosphere like nowhere else, especially when the roof is closed. The 74,000 seats are steeply banked around the pitch, so everyone has a perfect view. The singing of the Welsh national anthem – Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau – is utterly spine-tingling. The crowd is passionate, noisy, highly knowledgeable, and never shy of offering advice on how the breakdown should be refereed. And because rugby fans aren’t segregated, everyone mucks in with a friendly camaraderie – we all passionately want our team to win, of course, but we’re also part of a global rugby family.
The singing of the Welsh national anthem – Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau – is utterly spine-tingling."
Outside the Stadium
Before and after the game, the streets are filled with torrents of people enjoying a carnival atmosphere of red jerseys, face paint, regular outbreaks of singing, and the inevitable sprinkling of daffodil hats and inflatable sheep. A lot of beer is drunk.
If you’re staying the night (and you should), a couple of tips: the price of hotel beds rises with demand, and sell out quickly, so it’s worth considering booking outside the city, and taking public transport in/out. And to avoid the queues, book a post-match restaurant table well in advance: it gives you somewhere to go after the game where you’re guaranteed a seat.
Why Cardiff’s so good for rugby
It’s a city that enjoys a rollicking night out at any time, but match day is special. Most major sporting arenas are in some distant suburb, but the Principality Stadium is, crucially, right in the city centre. In some ways, it is the city centre: built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup, the four massive masts that support its roof are the city’s most visible landmark. The city centre’s bars and restaurants are only a few minutes’ walk away.
And why rugby?
Rugby runs deep in Wales. Early versions of the game were always popular, especially in the rural west. In Pembrokeshire, cnapan was contested between neighbouring parishes, the aim being to bring the ball – by any means necessary – back to your home parish. When the laws of rugby were codified in English schools in the mid-1800s, the game was taken up enthusiastically by Welsh working class communities, both rural and industrial.
The Welsh Rugby Union was founded in 1881, and it’s still regarded as our national game. There are more than 300 rugby clubs in Wales, and a flourishing women’s game: around 10,000 girls play rugby at school. The top men play for the four Welsh rugby regions - Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons. The regions compete against the best Irish, Scottish, Italian and South African teams in the Pro14 league, and also in the European Rugby Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup.
The four Welsh regions play an annual derby at the Principality Stadium, usually around April. It’s called Judgement Day: all four teams take part, with two matches being played back-to-back. Supporters of all colours, as well as neutrals, use the opportunity to have a rugby-themed party day in the capital.
As if we need an excuse…
Header image courtesy of © Huw Evans Picture Agency