Each spring, Murrayfield, Twickenham, the Aviva Stadium on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road and the Millennium Stadium become places of pilgrimage for rugby enthusiasts. By drawing together the first four rugby playing countries, the Six Nations maintains a tangible and continuing link to the origins of the international game.
Today’s landmark venues are among 35 grounds in the British Isles that have hosted matches as the competition has evolved from ad-hoc fixtures in the 1870s to become the Home International Championship – considered to have started in 1883. France officially joined the championship in 1910 before Five Nations became Six at the start of the third millennium.
A common characteristic of many of the earliest international rugby venues was that they were established cricket grounds. On closer examination, this is not so surprising. By the second half of the 18th century, cricket was widely played and many of the earliest rugby clubs were set-up by cricketers looking to keep themselves occupied during the winter months.
England have played4/5/6 Nations matches at some 15 grounds; Ireland 9, Wales 7 and Scotland 6.
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(As this post spans 140 years of international rugby history, and approaching 700 matches, its quite long! It’s divided into sections for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, so if you’re interested in a particular country, scroll down.)
Just as they were to invent Rugby 7s in 1883, the Scots can arguably take credit for inventing international rugby: it was Scotland who issued the invitation for an England team to play in the world’s first rugby international. The match was staged on the cricket pitch of the Edinburgh Academy at Raeburn Place on 27 March 1871. Angus Buchanan claimed the distinction of becoming the first international try scorer in helping Scotland to victory by a goal and a try to a try.
Scotland’s second home international, again against England on 3 March 1873, was played at the home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow. The match ended in a scoreless draw.
Scotland then reverted to Raeburn Place until growing friction with their Edinburgh Academy hosts prompted a search for a new ground. The last match at the birthplace of international rugby was a 6-0 victory over Ireland on 2 March 1895.
On 14 March 1896, Scotland defeated England 11-0 at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The second of three grounds to bear the name, it became Cathkin Park when its owners, Queen’s Park FC, moved to the current Hampden Park in 1903. (The Scottish rugby team played South Africa at the new Hampden Park in 1908.)
In 1897, the Scottish Football Union acquired land at Inverleith, Edinburgh to make Scotland the first national rugby team to own its own ground. While Inverleith was being developed, Scotland played two matches at Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh, an established “pedestrianism” venue. An 8-3 victory over Ireland on 20 February 1897 was followed by a 3-3 draw with England on 12 March 1898. (Between 1977 and its closure and demolition 1995, Powderhall was home to the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway team.)
Ireland became the first visitors to the world’s first purpose-built international rugby stadium at Inverleith on 18 February 1899, defeating Scotland by 3-9. After the First World War, limited space and run-down facilities at Inverleith prompted the SFU to search for a new home . Murray’s Field was eventually purchased from the Edinburgh Polo Club at the end of 1922. The last match at Inverleith was played on Burns Day – 25 January – 1925 and ended in a 25-4 victory over France. Today, Stewart’s Melville College, and associated clubs, continue to play rugby at Inverleith.
The first match at Murrayfield on on 21 March 1925 saw the lead change several times before Scotland eventually ran-out 14-11 winners over England to secure their first Grand Slam.
Although Twickenham has been England’s primary home for a century, of the nations who strive for the Triple Crown, England has had the most “home” grounds.
An English cricket ground hosted the world’s second rugby international. The return fixture against Scotland on 5 February 1872 was played at the Kennington Oval and ended in a victory for England by a goal, a drop goal and 2 tries to a drop goal. The first FA Cup final was staged at the same venue a month later.
The Oval hosted a total of seven rugby internationals, including Ireland’s debut on 15 February 1875 – won by England by 1 goal, 1 drop goal, and a try to nil – and the first international rugby match between teams of 15 players – again from England and Ireland – on 5 February 1877. Until then rugby had been 20-a-side.
The ground of Manchester FC, one of the oldest still surviving rugby clubs, in Whalley Range was the venue for England’s home victory against Scotland by 2 goals and 3 tries to 1 goal on 28 February 1880. Walley Range hosted a total of seven England matches up to 1892. According to the 1889 Ordnance Survey Map for Moss Side, the site is now occupied by present day King’s Road, Powell Street and Alphonsus Street off the Upper Chorlton Road.
Wales’ international debut was on Mr Richardson’s field, Blackheath on 19 February 1881. It was a baptism by fire for the Welsh as England won by 7 goals, 1 drop goal and 6 tries to nil! Blackheath holds a unique position in the history of rugby. A founder member of the Football Association, Blackheath withdrew in protest at the FA’s preference for the Cambridge rules of football, which prohibited carrying the ball, and its less tolerant attitude towards hacking. Blackheath then went on to become a founder member of the RFU.
Prior to the 1902 schism that ultimately led to the creation of Rugby League, Yorkshire was a rugby stronghold. England played a number of matches in the county including three in Leeds on three different grounds. The first was on 5 January 1884 when Wales were beaten by a goal and 2 tries to 1 goal at Cardigan Fields. The pitches are now occupied by the Leeds Rugby Academy under the management of the Leeds Rugby Foundation.
In the same 1884 season, Scotland were entertained at the Rectory Field, Blackheath on 1 March. A successful conversion separated the teams and gave victory to England by a goal to a try.
Between 1888 and 1889, the Home International Championship was reduced to a 3 Nation tournament after England declined to join the International Rugby Board which had been established to overcome differences in interpretation of the laws of the game. When England returned to the fold in 1890, they chose Yorkshire for their first match playing Wales at the original Crown Flatt ground, on Leeds Road, Earlesheaton in Dewsbury. The match was notable as Wales’ first victory against England – by a single point scored by a Dewsbury player William “Buller” Staden – to nil. Crown Flatt was replaced by housing after it was destroyed by arson in 1988. (Dewsbury Rams rugby league team play at the Tetley Stadium in Owl Lane which was initially referred to as the ‘new’ Crown Flatt Stadium when it was built in the early 1990s.)
Richmond Athletic Ground hosted England’s 3-9 defeat by Scotland on 7 March 1891. The home of both Richmond FC and London Scottish, the Athletics Ground was also the venue for France’s first match in the British Isles – a 41-13 defeat at the hands of England on 5 January 1907.
England’s second match in Leeds, an 0-8 defeat by Scotland on 4 March 1893, was played at Headingley. Acquired by the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Co from the Cardigan Estate in January 1889, Headingley was conceived as a multi-sport venue incorporating cricket and rugby pitches along with tennis courts, a bowling green, and a track for cycling and athletics around the cricket pitch. Today, the ground is used by both codes of rugby: Leeds Rhinos for league and Leeds Carnegie for union. The Headingley test cricket ground is adjacent to the rugby ground.
The first publicly funded park in Britain, Birkenhead Park on the Wirral, hosted England’s 24-3 victory over Wales on 6 January 1894.
Ireland were the visitors for England’s third match in Leeds on 1 February 1896. Played at Meanwood Road, the Irish won 4-10.
The following year, Scotland suffered a second defeat in Manchester, by 12-3. The match, on 13 February 1897, was played in Fallowfield. The Fallowfield Stadium, which also incorporated an athletics track and velodrome, was also notable for having hosted the 1893 FA Cup Final, the first to be played outside London. (Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Everton 1-0). The stadium was acquired by Manchester University, demolished in 1994 and redeveloped as the Richmond Park hall of residence.
Gloucester’s Kingsholm hosted a Welsh victory over England by 3-13 on 6 January 1900.
The first of five internationals at Welford Road, Leicester, was England’s 6-3 victory over Ireland on 8 February 1902. The 23-5 victory over Ireland on 10 February 1923 was the last England home fixture in the 4/5/6 Nations not to be played at Twickenham.
Wales’ made the short trip across the Severn Estuary to defeat England 18-28 at Ashton Gate, Bristol on 18 January 1908 in a match shrouded in thick fog. The match was the last of five caps for James Peters, the first black player to represent England. Although he was then playing for Plymouth, Peters’ rugby career had started at Bristol FC.
Twickenham, affectionately known as Billy Williams Cabbage Patch after an RFU committee member who was instrumental in the purchase of the former market garden, hosted its first international when Wales visited on 15 January 1910. England won 11-6.
Outside the 4/5/6 Nations, England have also played home matches at Crystal Palace (against New Zealand in 1905 and South Africa in 1906), Wembley (Canada, 1992), Old Trafford Manchester (New Zealand, 1997), and the McAlpine Stadium, Huddersfield, now known as the Galpharm Stadium (World Cup Qualifiers against the Netherlands, 1998 and Italy 1998.)
Having played their first international away to England at the Oval, Ireland’s first home international was a defeat by England by a goal and a try to nil. Ireland continued the tradition established by both Scotland and England in staging the match at the Leinster Cricket Ground, Rathmines, Dublin, on 13 December 1875
Ireland’s next home game, against Scotland on 19th February 1877, was the first of seven matches to be staged at the North of Ireland Football Club off the Ormeau Road in South Belfast. The Scots ran away victors by 4 goals, 2 tries and 2 drop goals to nil. Founded in 1868 as a section of the North of Ireland Cricket Club, it was one of the three oldest rugby clubs in Ireland until it merged and moved in with Collegians in 1999 to create Belfast Harlequins. Subsequently, the ground was vacated and turned over to housing.
Lansdowne Road, which was conceived as a multi-sport venue by Henry Dunlop, organiser of the first All Ireland Athletics Championship, opened for athletics in 1872. Incorporating a cinder track, the inevitable cricket pitch, croquet green, football pitches, archery facilities and lawn tennis courts, Lansdowne hosted its first rugby international on 11 March 1878 when Ireland succumbed to England by 2 goals and 1 try to nil. The Irish Rugby Football Union took over the lease of the venue in the early 1900s and the ground became Ireland’s spiritual home for the next century until it closed for redevelopment after the autumn internationals in 2006. The then reigning world champions South Africa were the first international visitors when Lansdowne Road was reborn as the Aviva Stadium on 6 November 2010.
The Ulster Cricket Ground in Ballynafeigh Park, Belfast hosted three matches between 1891 and 1894. The first visitors were Scotland on 21 February 1891, winning 0-14. [Please leave a comment if you can help locate this ground on the map. Thanks.]
Ireland’s match against Wales on 19 March 1898, which ended in defeat by 1 penalty goal to a goal, try and penalty goal, was played at Thomond Park, Limerick. The home of Munster but owned by the Irish RFU, the stadium has been redeveloped since 2008.
The Mardyke Grounds of the University College Cork are arguably Ireland’s most successful home venue. Three internationals have resulted in three home victories. England succumbed by 17-3 on 11 February 1905. France have been defeated twice: by 25-5 on 25 March 1911 and by 24-0 on 24 March 1913.
The Balmoral Showgrounds of the Royal Ulster Agriculture Society staged several 4/5 Nations matches starting with the 0-8 defeat by Scotland on 19 February 1898. The last match at the venue was the match against Wales on 12 March 1921 which Wales won 0-6. The Showgrounds also hosted South Africa in November 1906]
The modern home of Ulster Rugby, Ravenhill Park
has hosted 12 internationals against 4/5/6 Nations opposition. England were the first visitors on 9 February 1924 winning 3-14. Scotland were the last 5Nations visitors on 27 February 1954. Ireland won 6-0.
During the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road, there is a certain irony that Ireland have been permitted to play their home internationals at Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Established in 1884 to counter the growing influence of so-called “foreign” sports – especially those from England – the GAA’s full title references its duty to ensure the “Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes.” The first visitors to Croke Park on 11 February 2007 were at least gallic: France won 17-20. Ireland were clear winners – by 43-13 – when England made their first historic visit two weeks later. Scotland won the last of 14 international rugby matches at Croke Park, on 20 March 2010, winning 20-23.
Outside the 4/5/6 Nations Championship, Thomond Park Stadium in Limerick has hosted Ireland matches against Romania (September 2002), Italy (August 2003) and Canada (November 2009) while the Royal Dublin Society hosted Ireland’s match against Fiji as recently as November 2009.
IRFU results archive Team archive
Since their international debut at Blackheath in February 1881, Wales have played home fixtures at seven locations. Of these, the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, has yet to stage a 4/5/6 Nations match. Two of the home venues selected by Wales have been in England, and both of these have also been used by England as home grounds.
St Helen’s in Swansea staged Wales’ first home match on 16 December 1882. England won by 2 goals and 4 tries to nil. France’s first official 5 Nations match – a 49-14 defeat – was played at the Swansea ground on New Year’s Day 1910. Hosting 50 4/5/6 Nations internationals up to the Wales v Scotland match in April 1954, St Helen’s has also been a cricket ground for more than 130 years. Most famously it was where, in 1968, Malcolm Nash suffered the ignominy of allowing Garry Sobers to become the first 1st class cricketer to hit 6 sixes in an over.
Rodney Parade, Newport, hosted six international matches between Scotland’s first visit and victory on 12 January 1884 and the 14-8 victory for Wales over France on 25 March 1912.
The long association between Cardiff Arms Park and international rugby began on 12 April 1884 with a Welsh victory over Ireland by 1 drop goal and 2 tries to nil. Donated by the Marquis of Bute to the City of Cardiff “for recreational use” in perpetuity, the Arms Park was used by Cardiff Cricket Club from 1848 and subsequently by Glamorgan County Cricket Club until the 1960s. The southern part of the park became the home of Cardiff RFC from 1876. In the 1960s, as cricketers relocated to pitches up-river in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff’s rugby club took over the former cricket ground while the existing rugby stadium was redeveloped for international use as the National Ground Cardiff Arms Park. Between the Welsh 3-0 victory over England on 22 January 1955 and England’s 13-34 victory on 15 March 1997, all Wales’s 5 Nations home fixtures were played at the Arms Park / National Ground.
Stradey Park, Llanelli staged three 4 Nations matches starting with England’s visit and 0-0 draw on 4 January 1887. The first match was actually moved at short notice from the deeply frozen rugby pitch to the adjacent cricket pitch. (In 1998, during the redevelopment of the National Ground, Stradey Park hosted internationals against Italy in February and Argentina in November).
For the match against Ireland on 12 March 1887, the Welsh Rugby Union chose to play a home match in England. With Ireland reluctant to travel to play the most junior of the 4 Nations, the match was played at Birkenhead Park – within easy reach of Liverpool Docks and the shipping lines to Dublin. Wales’ generosity was rewarded with victory by a drop goal and a try to 3 tries: these were the days when a drop goal was valued much more than a try. Wales were to play “away” on the same ground to England 16 years later.
Between 1997 and 1999, Wales decamped to England again – this time at Wembley. As well as Autumn internationals against New Zealand (1997) and South Africa (1998), Wembley hosted four 5 Nations matches. The first was a 19-13 victory against Scotland. Wales last action in the shadows of Wembley’s twin towers was Scott Gibbs dramatic (and heart-breaking for Englishmen) over-time try in the 32-31 victory over England on 11 April 1999.
The most famous feature of the new Millennium Stadium is, of course, its retractable roof – designed to fend off the metre of rain that falls on Cardiff in a typical year. The new pitch, mounted on removable pallets, has been rotated through 90 degrees compared with the old National Ground to run north-south. The (un-finished) Stadium opened for international rugby on 26 June 1999 to witness Wales’ first ever victory over South Africa by 29-19. The (finished) Stadium subsequently staged the 1999 Rugby World Cup final in which Australia beat France 35-12 on 6 November 1999. The Stadium’s first 6 Nations match was against France on 5 February 2000.
WRU results archive
RugbyData.com contains match-by-match details for most international rugby matches, including all 4/5/6 Nations matches.