Rugby World Cup 2015: The Ultimate Travel Guide
A rugby rollercoaster is coming to England and Wales this autumn, and we've got all the info you need to enjoy the ride.
'When I die, I don't want to go to heaven, I want to go on tour."
Those were the immortal words of former Wales wing Glen Webbe, and they ring truer than ever with the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
For the travelling rugby fan, this is the opportunity of a lifetime... and it's not all down to Joe Schmidt. Sure, Ireland go into their pool games as back-to-back Six Nations champions. But the fact that we're competing in stadiums just a short plane or ferry hop away is a champion prospect for supporters too.
In 2011, we faced a wallet-busting trek to New Zealand. In 2019, it will be Japan.
But this autumn, the action is right on our doorstep. People will be up for it, too. "The fact that London's hosting of the 2012 Olympics went so well, I think, means a lot," says former Ireland wing Niall Woods.
"I was there for three days in 2012, and the atmosphere was amazing. People were smiling on the Tube. Normally they're miserable! There's a momentum, and the fact that England have a good chance to win means the whole country will get behind them."
That goes for the home nations, too. With the competition taking place throughout September and October, and in our time zone, Irish fans can pop over for day-trips, for weekends, or indeed for weeks on end without having to worry about jetlag and long-haul flights (and the associated costs).
It's a rollercoaster of rugby, and here's how to make the most of it:
Ireland's fixture list
September 19: Ireland v Canada (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)
September 27: Ireland v Romania (Wembley Stadium, London)
October 4: Ireland v Italy (Olympic Stadium, London)
October 11: France v Ireland (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)
October 17/18: Possible quarter-final (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)
October 24/25: Possible semi-final (Twickenham, London)
October 31: Possible final (Twickenham, London)
1. Olympic Stadium, London
Irish fixture: v Italy (October 4, pool game)
Work is being undertaken to transform the former Olympic Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park into a year-round multi-use venue, complete with the largest roof of its kind in the world. The stadium will re-open temporarily for five matches at the Rugby World Cup, before becoming the new home of West Ham United. Let's pray Sergio Parisse has an off-day.
2. Wembley Stadium, London
Irish fixture: v Romania (September 27)
The original Wembley Stadium hosted five of football's European Cup finals, the 1966 World Cup final, Live Aid in 1985, and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1948 Olympic Games. No pressure, then!
Wales played seven internationals here while the Millennium Stadium was being built - a cherished memory for many fans is Scott Gibbs' late try against England in 1999, which denied the 'away' side a Grand Slam as Wales recorded a famous Five Nations victory.
3. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Irish fixtures: v Canada (September 19, pool game); v France (October 11, pool game); possible quarter-final (October 17/18).
This needs no introduction. With a pitch so close, you can practically touch the grass, the host stadium for both Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam (yay!) and our only defeat in the past 11 games earlier this year (boo!), Wales' national stadium is rugby gold. Situated a stone's throw from Cardiff Central Station, it is the second largest sports venue in the world with a fully retractable roof. Several FA Cup finals have also been played here.
4. Twickenham, London
Irish fixtures: Possible semi-final (October 24/25);
possible final (October 31)
Twickers. This is where Paul O'Connell will lift the William Webb Ellis trophy, amidst jubilant scenes and an ecstatic crowd gone green for the day, after Ireland clinch the World Cup final on October 31. Oh, okay then, better not jinx it. Twickenham is the biggest dedicated rugby ground in the world and the scene of several English glories - and defeats, including Australia's RWC victory in 1991.
The beauty of Rugby World Cup 2015 is that it’s right on our doorstep, meaning travelling fans can pop over for a single game, or take a longer holiday incorporating several games, or rounds of games. There’s no cheap way of doing it, unfortunately, but there are several options for doing things smartly.
Ireland’s main pool matches are in London and Cardiff, with a likely quarter-final scenario in Cardiff.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com) and CityJet (cityjet.com) all fly direct into various airports around London, while Flybe (flybe.com) recently announced direct flights from Cork to Cardiff. Aer Lingus and Ryanair also fly from Dublin to Bristol and Birmingham, which are within driving distance of Cardiff.
The ferry options
Stena Line (stenaline.ie) and Irish Ferries (irishferries.com) are both offering cross-channel sailings starting from €50pp each way for a car and a gang of four. The fares are from Rosslare or Dublin, and available for bookings made by October 15 for travel on September 17-21, October 9-13 and 15-20. You can book trips in the normal way online with Stena; but for Irish Ferries use the ‘RWC15’ code.
Abbey Travel (abbeytravel.ie) has a day-trip to the Italy pool game (London, October 4) for €329pp, a one-night package starting from €425pp, and a two-night package starting at €525pp. For Ireland v France (Cardiff, October 11), it has day-trips for €350pp, one-night packages from €449pp and two-night packages from €499pp. Prices include transfers, but not taxes of €65.
Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) is the official Irish travel agent for RWC 2015, and it has a day-trip to the Millennium Stadium clash with the Canadians on September 19 including flights, match tickets and transfers from €459pp.
Trevor Brennan Rugby Tours (trevorbrennanrugbytours.com) has a quarter-final 2 & 3 package in Cardiff over the October 17/18 weekend from €760pp for a one-night trip including flights, accommodation and match tickets (including tax).
Killester Travel (killestertravel.com) has a two-night World Cup final package taking in flights from Dublin, Cork, Belfast or Shannon, along with a four-star hotel, transfers and official match tickets (Category B) from €2,195pp plus tax.
Best of the rest...
The day-trip: Brighton
South Africa play Japan here on September 19 - the ideal opportunity to catch several million tries and a run on some old-school dodgems. But there's more to Brighton than traditional seaside delights (think piers, candyfloss and helter skelters). Take the Brighton Wheel for a bird's eye view, check out the Royal Pavilion for a blast of Regency-era architecture and mosey among the meandering alleyways of The Lanes, with its hip boutiques and quirky goodies.
Best completely random coincidence
What a happy quirk of fate that London Chocolate Week (chocolateweek.co.uk) takes place from October 13-19. The week includes loads of Willy Wonka-worthy events, culminating with the Chocolate Show at Olympia West. But, by then, you'll probably have had your fill of course and be off to watch Ireland trounce Argentina (preferably) or New Zealand (noooo!) in a Cardiff quarter-final. The sporting day trips
The World Rugby Museum at Twickenham (englandrugby.com/museum; £8/€11) boasts a collection of some 25,000 objects alongside special exhibitions, but it's not the only sporting fix in London. Sports fans with time on their hands could also take a trip round Lord's, the Home of Cricket (lords.org; £18/€25), or Wembley Stadium (wembleystadium.com/wembley-tours; £19/€26).
Best for a quick gift (ahem. . .)
Can't face Harrods? Or Sloane Street? Nor should you. For something a little different, shoot for the Liberty emporium (liberty.co.uk) on Regent Street. Dating from 1875, but rebuilt in mock-Tudor style in the 1920s, it's a magical department store, full of bags and clothes and beauty products.
Another fun option is the quirky BOXPARK (boxpark.co.uk) in Shoreditch: it's the world's first pop-up mall made of shipping containers. East London is a hip spot to spend an afternoon, too.
The big screen experiences in London
The Grand in Clapham (claphamgrand.com) is home to the largest sports screen in the UK (40sqm), plus several 50-inch plasma TVs. Other rugby venues include the Irish-run Faltering Fullback (thefullback.co.uk) in Finsbury Park, and the Famous Three Kings (f3k-london.co.uk), a Welsh favourite in West Kensington.
Newcastle: A night away?
South Africa and New Zealand both have pool matches at St James's Park. . . the core stadium in a city shrugging off its industrial image. Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) both fly direct from Dublin.
What's all this about the art scene?
The city's on a roll. . . Antony Gormley's Angel of the North is an iconic attraction, but it's just the beginning of your cultural fix in Newcastle/Gateshead. The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (balticmill.com) mounts ever-changing exhibitions in a converted flour-mill. Upper-storey views over Sage Gateshead and the River Tyne are stunning.
Neighbourhood worth a nose?
Ouseburn Valley was the cradle of the industrial revolution on Tyneside. Today, it's Newcastle's up-and-coming artsy district. There's an agreeably beatnik feel to the old redbrick streets, with galleries like The Biscuit Factory (thebiscuitfactory.com) lining up next to funky pubs, vintage car garages and - bizarrely - an urban farm and stables. It's a great place for a few pints. . . away from the blue vodkas.
Best for pub grub?
Stashed under the stanchions of Tyne Bridge, The Bridge Tavern (thebridgetavern.com) looks like a movie set in the making. Craft ale is brewed on site, and a tasty menu ranges from sharing planks of meats, seafood and cheeses to 'bar bait' snacks and mains like a stonking beer-battered haddock, chips and mushy peas that'll leave you with change of a tenner.
See our interview with Tomás about his return to Munster rugby
For more info on the Rugby World Cup’s fixtures, stadia and tickets see rugbyworldcup.com. See also visitengland.com.