Tonight, millions around the globe will tune in for the opening game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup to see England play Fiji at Twickenham (ITV, 8pm). With that in mind, we thought we’d share our knowledge of the eleven cities across England and Wales that have been selected to host the 48 ferocious fixtures. Take a look at the 15 finest rugby academies you should…try. (Sorry!)
Although not usually associated with the historic game of rugby, Birmingham has a proud sporting heritage and was the first UK city to be awarded the status of National City of Sport by the Sports Council. Villa Park (England’s largest stadium outside of London) is home to one of the country’s oldest professional football teams, Aston Villa, and during the group stages you can catch Samoa, Uruguay, Australia and South Africa in action at this unmistakeable Victorian venue. Click here for places to stay in Birmingham
Want to combine your academic studies with around the clock coaching? The Greater Birmingham Rugby Academy helps young players reach their full potential. And with three internationals and 15 county players graduating from their program in just two years, it’s one of the best places to hone your skills in the midlands.
Trendy Brighton, on the popular south coast, may be better known as a tourist hotspot, but since the £93m Community Stadium was opened in 2011, the city has shown its huge potential as a venue for major events. The Amex (currently sponsored by American Express) has already had a taste for grand events, when the fledgling stadium played host to a two-night concert featuring local DJ Fatboy Slim and a Six Nations Under 20’s Championship fixture. However, the 2015 Rugby World Cup games, South Africa v Japan and Samoa v USA, will be the city’s first real taste of top-level international sport. Click here for places to stay in Brighton and Hove
Passionate about developing the personal and social skills of young players as well as the physical, technical and tactical aspects of the game, Hove Rugby Academy is great if you want your future Chris Robshaw to mature into a true all-rounder. Hove R.F.C. caters for children under seven, right up to 18.
A vital ingredient to the lifeblood of the Welsh nation, the origins of the game we know today can be traced back to the primitive team games played by the Celts in the Iron Age. As the capital city of Wales, Cardiff has always been synonymous with Welsh sport and has recently hosted England Test Cricket matches as well as eight football matches during the London 2012 Olympics. And their altar, in which to worship the sport they truly love above all others, is The Millennium Stadium. It was built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup and has been a venue for international and domestic finals ever since. France, New Zealand, Ireland and Wales will all play at the space-age stadium in the group stages, as well as two of the quarter-finals. Click here for places to stay in Cardiff
Being such an intrinsic part of Welsh culture, it’s no surprise that Cardiff have two amazing academies to develop your ‘drop goals’ and learn your ‘line-outs’. Cardiff Blues play in the Pro12 – a Rugby Union competition involving teams from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy – and are responsible for turning new talent into elite athletes. While the newly established Cardiff and Vale College focus on turning their prodigies into future stars, they also offer a high level of educational development for their youngsters.
Exeter, a historic former Roman settlement on the banks of the River Exe, is well-versed in hosting top level rugby, as its local team Exeter Chiefs have been playing in the Aviva Premiership (the top level of domestic union in England) since 2012. Their home, Sandy Park, is located on the outskirts of the ancient city and it has recently increased its overall capacity to 12,500 for the pool games between Tonga v Namibia, Namibia v Georgia and Italy v Romania during the competition. Click here for places to stay in Exeter
With a strong and proud tradition of producing home-grown players and a number of academy bases to train across the whole of Devon and Cornwall, the Exeter Chiefs Academy is the perfect place to learn the game if you’re in the western extremity of England. There are links to Exeter University, and the bases in Truro and Bicton also offer Foundation Degree courses too.
Gloucester, another city originally founded by the Romans, also has its own distinctive brand of history and culture. A core part of the fabric of city is their rugby club and Gloucester Rugby is fast approaching its 150th anniversary. The Aviva Premiership club’s home ground, Kingsholm Stadium, has an enviable history when it comes to international rugby, having hosted its first Test Match back in 1900. Over September and October, Tonga, Georgia and Argentina will give the nosiest crowd in the league something to really shout about! Click here for places to stay in Gloucester
The coaches at Gloucester aim to “develop local players who can compete at the highest level and bring the passion and desire that goes with playing for your home club”, and produce outstanding players for both club and country. Sound good? Gloucester Rugby Academy can help turn you into the next Phil Vickery.
The Yorkshire city of Leeds has long had a grand sporting heritage with Leeds United (three First Division titles), Leeds Rhinos (13 Challenge Cups, nine League championships and three World Club Challenge titles) and Yorkshire County Cricket Club (33 County Championship titles, including the 2015 trophy last week) all on their doorstep. And although it’s Rugby League which dominates the landscape in Leeds, the amazing atmosphere generated by the crowds of Elland Road have persuaded the World Cup organisers to bring international Rugby Union to the historic old ground. Scotland v USA and Italy v Canada promise to blow the East Stand roof off! Click here for places to stay in Leeds
Specialising in turning every prospect they train into the best athlete they can possibly be, Titans Sports Academy is the place to attend if you want experienced coaches in evolving individuals from ‘acceptable’ to ‘exceptional. For the next wannabe Jonny Wilkinsons and budding Bryan Habanas, there are specific courses designed to develop speed, kicking and strength and conditioning to name a few.
Widely known for its connection to crisps, England footballing aces and Plantagenet monarchs buried in car parks, Leicester’s choice as a host city for the 2015 World Cup came as no surprise to rugby aficionados. The city’s rugby club, Leicester Tigers, are the most successful English Rugby Union club, winning the championship a record 10 times since its inauguration in 1987. However, with Tigers’ Welford Road home not suitable for international rugby, Leicester City’s state-of-the-art-all-seater facility has been picked for the Argentina v Togo, Argentina v Namibia and Canada v Romania games. Click here for places to stay in Leicester
With the likes of England World Cup winners Martin Johnson and Graham Rowntree notable alumni, The Leicester Tigers Rugby Academy is designed to develop world-class rugby players. Recently the renowned academy produced its 100th age-grade international; could you be Tigers’ 101st?
During the six weeks of the event, London will be awash with rugby fans from every continent as three different venues will host 16 games. England will play three of their pool games at Twickenham (the mecca for England’s rugby worshipers) as well as two of the quarter finals, both semis and, of course, the final. On the other side of the capital, the former Olympic Stadium in Stretford has been developed into a year-round multi-use venue. All together, five games will take place at the showpiece venue of the 2012 games, before it starts a new life as the permanent home of West Ham United in 2016. Wembley Stadium will also open its doors for games between New Zealand and Argentina, as well as Ireland against Romania. Click here for places to stay in London
Although there are 13 rugby clubs in the capital playing within the national leagues, few can rival the scope and excellence of Harlequins Academy. Their developing player programme (DDP) allows exciting prospects to continue playing for their club, school and county while fantastic coaches monitor their development. They also offer the ‘Elite Player Development Group’ and a full-time academy for young players with the potential to play at the highest level. Another respected rugby club in London, which is known for having a more ‘grass roots’ approach to participation, is the Alleynian Rugby Club. Altogether the 117 year old club has 22 teams, from ‘veterans’ to the under 6’s. If you’re inspired by any of the rugby you see over the next few weeks and want to sample a scrum or ping a few passes, get yourself down to Dulwich Common for a game.
Once the beating heart of the industrial revolution, Manchester has blossomed into one of the UK’s most visited cities (behind only London and Edinburgh). To many, Manchester is synonymous with football, as two giant clubs divide the city into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ halves. And it was the blue half which earned the right to host England’s only game north of the capital, when they face Uruguay in the final game of Pool ‘A’. The City of Manchester Stadium itself is no stranger to events of this magnitude, having been built for when the Commonwealth Games came to Manchester in 2002 and, in recent years, showcasing international rugby league as well as domestic Finals. Click here for places to stay in Manchester
Across the north of England, Rugby League (a breakaway version of Rugby Union) is by far the most popular version of the sport. At Leigh Miners Rangers Rugby League Academy they are always happy to welcome new players who want to give league a try. Miners are ‘Clubmark Gold’ accredited (meaning it’s been awarded for its coaching, duty of care, community engagement and management) and welcomes players from Under 7’s to Under 16’s and beyond. Alternatively, if you wish to make some new friends and benefit from the social side of playing sport, Manchester Canalsiders might be right up your street. It offers teams for both men and women and is the UK’s first official LGBT Rugby League club.
One of the UK’s most vibrant cities, you can’t help but be charmed by the cobbled streets and Georgian architecture that sprawls across the busy city centre. Known for its fanatic football fans, ‘The Toon’ also have a top-flight rugby union team in Newcastle Falcons (who had a certain Jonny Wilkinson in their ranks when the Roses fought their way to World Cup victory in 2003). The city’s historic St James’ Park ground has been picked to host three games during the tournament, two of those will feature the ‘Scots’ and one the mighty All Blacks. Click here for places to stay in Newcastle
At rugby league club Newcastle Thunder, they promote the ‘Embed the Pathway’ scheme, which is designed to work on every aspect of their game to ultimately grow a stronger pool of potential England players. This year, Thunder have launched their ‘Open Access Development Programme’ to Under 14’s, in an attempt to unearth the next Martin Offiah or Sam Tonkins. There’s also a super academy at Newcastle Falcons. Their philosophy is that the individual ‘person’ is more important than the ‘player’ – so expect plenty of one-to-one coaching on all forms of personal, education and technical development in the Falcon’s youth set up.
Designed to be an urban metropolis and part of the ‘new wave’ of new towns after the Second World War, the shiny and futuristic-looking city of Milton Keynes is excellent for shopping, year-round activities and lots of green space to enjoy in your spare time. The city’s centrepiece is the sleek Stadium MK, which can be found a drop-kick away from the A5. And at just an hour’s drive away from London, you can see why it’s been picked to host two pool games including the tasty-looking France v Canada. Click here for places to stay in Milton Keynes
Located just a few miles of the city centre, Bletchley Rugby Club offers competitive rugby from under 7-16’s, three senior Men’s teams as well as a Ladies XI, too. If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a ticket to any of the games during the tournament, fear not! Bletchley will be showing every single game from the club’s bar, and, what’s more, for tonight’s opener they’ll be serving fish and chips for the England v Fiji game.