A new coffee-table book explores rugby grounds around the world, from the super stadia to hidden grass-roots gems. Rugby World finds it a treat for the eye
How much do we really know about the rugby grounds that we so happily frequent? Very little, we humbly concluded, after reading Remarkable Rugby Grounds, a resplendent coffee-table book that was published this week (£25).
Produced by Pavilion Books, the book immediately grabs your attention for its stunning photographs, often taken via use of a drone. Instantly, you find yourself flicking through the pages in search of the ‘most beautiful’ ground.
Might it be Haven Oval, home to the Terrigal Trojans in NSW, with its glorious ocean view of the South Pacific and its elevated strip of land at one end?
Turn the page and there is a red-hot contender to that title in The Holmes. Home of Irish club Donegal Town, it lies within minutes of mountains, forest and lake.
Of course, beauty comes in many forms. How about The Tump, home of Cambrian Welfare, whose picture postcard pitch atop a mountain would not have been possible had miners of 100 years ago not taken their pickaxes to a patch of land and levelled it.
Then there’s Kamaishi City Stadium, a stadium steeped in symbolism after the Japanese town was struck by a tsunami in 2011 that took the lives of more than a thousand citizens. The stadium was purpose-built for Japan 2019 and staged the dramatic Uruguay-Fiji pool match.
You soon realise that many of the grounds come with a powerful story attached. Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena in Salta, Argentina, is named after a priest who was brutally robbed and murdered by his godson and his altar boy accomplice whilst he got money out of a cash machine in 2001.
Blood was also spilt in the construction of Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, nicknamed the Giraffe Stadium because of its distinctive pillars. South African politician Jimmy Mohlala was murdered the day before he was due to give evidence to a court about forged building contracts for the £80m stadium.
Stade Raoul Barrière, home of Beziers, makes the list of nearly 80 stadia in the book by virtue of the death of club legend Armand Vaquerin. The France prop shot himself in a game of Russian roulette in 1993.
Tragedy struck, too, at Clermont, whose former France wing Jean-François Phliponeau died on the Marcel-Michelin pitch in 1976 after being hit by lightning.
Stuart Barnes chose Clermont as the best ground in the world in which to watch rugby and the most vocal of the club’s supporters congregate in a stand named in Phliponeau’s honour.
World firsts abound in the book. Dublin’s Aviva Stadium was the first stadium in the world to have a curved roof – an effect since replicated in Marseille. Designed by architectural firm Populous, the arena is an example of parametric design: curves and unconventional shapes.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin bills itself as “the only fully roofed natural turf stadium in the world”. While Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, inspired by the ebullient Mike Dunafon, is home to the planet’s only high-altitude rugby training centre.
The Principality Stadium in Wales, which came close to being built in Bridgend instead of Cardiff, was the first large UK stadium to incorporate a retractable roof. And the Resonac Dome in Oita, with its steel skeleton spanning 274 metres, was the biggest building of its kind until being surpassed by Cowboys Stadium in Texas and the National Stadium in Singapore.
And the world’s most expensive stadium? That title goes to the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, which houses two NFL franchises but qualifies for this book because LA Giltinis played a Major League Rugby game there in 2021 (and it will surely stage matches at RWC 2031).
The arena can accommodate 100,000 spectators and the site covers a 6,000-capacity indoor arena, a six-acre lake and a 300-piece art collection. Owner Stan Kroenke is so wealthy that his Texas ranch is bigger than LA and New York City combined, so the £5.8 billion price tag for the stadium proved no obstacle.
Lest you think the big international stadia dominate the book, there are plenty of grounds of smaller dimensions. Among them are three with huge historic significance: Edinburgh’s Raeburn Place, scene of the first-ever Test match in 1871; Rugby School, where 200 years ago William Webb Ellis ran with the ball; and The Greenyards in Melrose, venue for the oldest rugby tournament after sevens was born there in 1883.
One moment you are gazing at the La Défense Arena, the world’s second-biggest indoor stadium after Philippine Arena, the next you are admiring the Edgar Davies Ground in Bridgnorth, where they are building a clubhouse on stilts to avoid damage from flooding.
It is that sort of book, ranging from grass-roots quirky to the sport’s vast cathedrals. Author Ryan Herman, a self-confessed terrible rugby player, has done an impressive job as he adds to a portfolio that includes cricket grounds and golf courses.
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Remarkable Rugby Grounds is published by Pavilion Books, RRP £25.
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