My top ten of stadiums, cathedrals in the game of rugby

Phil Dollman, Chiefs favourite and Sidmouth Rugby Club player coach

Phil Dollman, Chiefs favourite and Sidmouth Rugby Club player coach - Credit: Archant

One strangely vivid experience of those early Covid days is the Match of the Day top 10 episodes while in the garden or out for a run…..loved them. 

They gave me some inspiration, listening the Alan Shearer and Ian Wright talk about their experiences led nicely to the last column featuring the top 10 players I have played against and this week its top 10 stadiums. 

Immediately, I think of the stadiums I would loved to have played in but never had the chance…..the likes of the Principality Stadium (although I did play on the old National stadium pitch circa 1996), and some of the Southern Hemisphere grounds, like Ellis Park or Eden Park. But I’ve had the pleasure of some decent spots, here we go: 

10. Stade Chaban-Delmas (Bordeaux) - The positives of the ground far outweigh the negatives, the small changing rooms, a pretty poor playing surface and a hefty 400/500m walk to the pitch are dwarfed by the pre-match entertainment/hospitality. Great atmosphere and the post-match is top of the class. 

9. Murrayfield - On the list more because of my experience as a fan, although I have had the chance to play there. Edinburgh vs Dragons was played in front of what felt like 300 people, yet a full-blooded Six Nations game with the Scots and Welsh was intense viewing. 

8. ‘The Rec’ - These next two would have greater chance of moving up the list if they only had changing rooms slightly better than a cramped dog pen. Plenty of atmosphere, which is great as a player and what a city. 

7. Welford Road - Everything about this ground is close knit, apart from its huge capacity. The crowd so close to the play, like no other ground I’ve experienced, they really do get stuck into the game. So many memories of players being bundled against the hoardings when tempers fly. 

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6. Stradey Park - The home of Llanelli and then the Scarletts before they moved stadiums. Preparing for a game on the ground that had so much history was a huge thing. Not great memories playing-wise but the atmosphere was top notch, and seeing legends of the game like Phill Bennett around the club really iced the cake. 

5.The National Stadium Wales - as a Welshman the national stadium is number one, but as a rugby player my faded memories as an 11 year-old running out on the pitch aren’t quite as strong as more recent ventures. It still makes the top 5, as I do remember how proud I was to be on there in front of friends and family. 

4.Stade Mayol - A stones through from the coast in the south off France, the most picturesque of stadiums. The crowd love throwing newspaper at you and the announcer is a mad man. The Galacticos of European rugby for so long and a team I would have loved to play for. 

3.Twickenham - the noise this place creates is an experience like no other for me. 80,000 people at HQ is one of my best memories in the game. 

2.Sandy Park - Of course, some unreal noise comes from the Sandy Park faithful, some proper hair-raising moments, and unforgettable times. Being able to play regularly in front of friends and family in such a cauldron was amazing, topped off with the traditional run around with the kids after the final whistle. A proper rugby club, which has always been the main attraction for me. 

1.Stade Marcel Michelin - Tops the bill with atmosphere and aura. Clermont have never failed to score 40+ points on the three separate occasions I have played away at this colosseum. The 20,000 crowd really does become part of their game, and we were never able to keep them quiet. 

The people that fill these places are the true atmosphere, including the opposition. Those who really use and feed off the atmosphere are always the toughest opponents. 

General view during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Australia at Twickenham on 13 Novem

General view during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Australia at Twickenham on 13 November 2021. Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK - Credit: Micah Crook/PPAUK

General view of play as Clermont kick off the second half - Photo mandatory by-line: Dan Mullan/Pinn

General view of play as Clermont kick off the second half - Photo mandatory by-line: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle - Tel: +44(0)1363 881025 - Mobile:0797 1270 681 - VAT Reg No: 768 6958 48 - 12/01/2013 - SPORT - RUGBY - Heineken Cup - Clermont Auvergne v Exeter Chiefs, Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand, France. - Credit: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle


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