Rugby runs deep in Wales
First, a bit of background. Rugby is a sport strongly associated with the working class industrial heritage of Wales. It is not a sport for the privileged. It’s a sport for all, particularly with its rise in popularity over the past couple of decades in North Wales. For the past 50 years people have made their way to Cardiff from all over the country for The Match.
There are four rugby regions in Wales – Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, The Scarlets and the Newport Dragons. These teams compete against the best Irish, Scottish and Italian teams in the Pro12 League and also play in Europe’s top rugby competition The Heineken Cup. The club rugby in Wales is no less competitive, either.
The location adds to the magic
In the classic Welsh way, when it came to building a brand new stadium for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, the Welsh Rugby Union ignored the received the wisdom that a 21st century stadium should be located on the outskirts of town, within easy reach of major highways and public transport links. The Principality Stadium was built on the ground of the original national stadium, Cardiff Arms Park, situated right in the heart of Cardiff. It resembles a hastily parked spaceship - in a good way.
The 72,000 capacity stadium is regarded as one of the most atmospheric sporting venues in the world. It is surrounded by bars and restaurants, often with their clientele spilling onto the streets.
Thousands of people travel from far flung places like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa for the Autumn International weekends, taking place in November and December. In late winter and early spring, the Six Nations Championship features matches against England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy.
The sporting events are never less than ferociously competitive and the social activity of the supporters is equally committed. Fans of both sides and of all ages integrate happily inside and outside the ground. With these ingredients, it’s no wonder people like to make a weekend of it. It’s certainly not a time for quiet contemplation.
Win, lose or draw, the result is invariably the same - a weekend of making new friends and experiencing a city at its most gregarious. Oh, and there’s some rugby on too...