Premiership Rugby

Top Five Investec Champions Cup Grounds: Sensational Fans And Atmospheres

Top Five Investec Champions Cup Grounds: Sensational Fans And Atmospheres

The Investec Champions Cup is professional club rugby's premier competition. Here are the top 5 stadiums, which are fortresses for their respective teams.

Jan 19, 2024 by Briar Napier
Top Five Investec Champions Cup Grounds: Sensational Fans And Atmospheres

The flair. The fans. The fireworks.

Some of the best parts about the game of rugby don’t technically involve the sport at all. In fact, oftentimes, it’s a fanbase or a stadium that helps make a mammoth matchday special, giving the home venue a festival-like atmosphere in which the environment feels like a big deal — because it is.

Certain clubs around the world do it better than others, though, whether that’s due to unique locations, loud and proud support, elite-level rugby or some combination of the three. 

Every rugby fan has a stadium bucket list, but for some fans of the sport, what may be others’ must-go spot is their home ground, where they add to the atmosphere themselves with every home matchday.

Prepare the vocal chords and get your food and drink in hand. Let’s take a trip around the globe to find the top places to watch a match in this year's Champions Cup. You might discover a new favorite along the way.

Here’s a look at five of the best grounds to watch a rugby match among this year’s Champions Cup entrants, spread far and wide across the world with rich histories and atmospheres:

Stade Mayol, Toulon

Though many stadiums in France require at least some travel for many home supporters, as they’re based away from city centers, Stade Mayol is instead a jewel of Toulon itself and located in the heart of the city on the Mediterranean coast. 

Communal buildings surround the ground, making it truly a part of the community in Toulon, rather than an extension of it; Mont Faron overlooking the action is merely an added bonus to the already-stunning views. 

Holding around 17,300 people at capacity, it often feels much bigger on a raucous Toulon matchday and gets outright rabid whenever the home support breaks out into the ear-splitting “Pilou Pilou” chant before each match, describing the club’s players as savage warriors arriving from the mountains to the sea. 

It has been the home ground at one point or another of some of rugby’s greatest players, such as legendary English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, powerful All Blacks center Ma’a Nonu and many others, and the fans’ passion has been rewarded with plenty of domestic and continental accolades recently, to boot, most notably Toulon’s three-peat of Champions Cup titles from 2013-2015, a Top 14 title in 2014 and a Challenge Cup win in 2023.

The Recreation Ground, Bath

Is The Recreation Ground’s facilities worth salivating over? Hardly. Will you be treated to world-class amenities upon your visit to the venue, located in a city of under 100,000 people in the southwest of England? Not really, unless you’re hitting the spas nearby before or after the match. 

But the history and true community aspect of The Recreation Ground has few equals in world rugby, and it is beloved by much of its home support for those reasons.

The home of Bath Rugby since 1894 (frequently called “The Rec” for short), the roughly 14,500-seat stadium is nestled in the center of the city and truly is a venue by the people, for the people; the stadium (not owned by Bath Rugby) only takes about a quarter of the open space at The Recreation Ground, with the remainder of the land used by the public. 

Sure, the stadium is showing a bit of age, and plans for a new stadium have been discussed. Plus, The Recreation Ground’s location on the banks of the River Avon has seen it subjected over the years to waterlogged pitches and/or flooding. But the view of the historic Bath Abbey and various other old buildings/architectural wonders in the city hovering over the action makes it a one-of-a-kind place to watch a rugby match, especially in the UK.

Thomond Park, Munster

A big European night in Limerick has little competition in the club rugby world, and for good reason — it’s all about the noise, or sometimes lack thereof, at Thomond Park. 

Whether it’s the home support belting “The Fields of Athenry” and “Stand Up and Fight,” or the eerie dead silence when a player (regardless of team) attempts a kick as a show of respect to the taker, Munster’s atmosphere at Thomond Park sets it apart among many imitators, undoubtedly helped by its 25,600 capacity, which is the biggest of any permanent venue of the four Irish provincial teams. 

Full of history, Thomond Park was the site of Munster’s famous upset win over a touring All Blacks side in 1978 — in which New Zealand winger Stu Wilson likened the environment to playing in front of 100,000 people — and when the venue reopened in 2008 following a large-scale redevelopment project, New Zealand returned for the 30th anniversary of the match and needed a late try to stave away another Munster shocker in front of electric home support.

Today, Munster matches still are some of the most well-attended in both the United Rugby Championship and the Champions Cup, the latter competition of which the club held a 12-year unbeaten streak at home from the competition’s inaugural year in 1995 to 2007, when the Leicester Tigers finally defeated Munster at Thomond Park.

Welford Road, Leicester Tigers

Speaking of Leicester, it has a storied stadium in its own right, and only the Bristol Bears’ Ashton Gate (which also is the home of football club Bristol City) has a higher-capacity ground among current Premiership teams than the Tigers. 

The most successful club in the Premiership era, Leicester’s imposing fortress on the southern end of the city center has been getting opponents off-kilter since 1892, holding nearly 26,000 boisterous fans in one of Europe’s most rugby-mad cities. 

Though the ground has seen its share of renovations and tweaks over the years, one constant and iconic part of the venue has been the Breedon Stand on the south side of Welford Road, featuring wooden benches and terrace seating that takes visitors on a blast to the past as a living, breathing part of the club and stadium’s history. 

A venue for five full England international matches and a ground for matches in both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, Welford Road is a proper gathering spot for one of England’s most popular and decorated clubs, and when the “Smoke on the Water” guitar riff plays when the Tigers walk out of the dressing room, get ready to hear those fans who have congregated for a matchday erupt in full force. 

Cape Town Stadium, Stormers

This could be seen a bit of a controversial decision to some, considering that the Stormers’ former ground, the Newlands Stadium, was (and still is) one of the most iconic venues in the rugby world prior to the club moving out in 2021, but its glitzy and glamorous successor by the Atlantic Ocean deserves its flowers. 

Built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (where it hosted a semifinal), the all-seater colossus holds a shade over 58,000 fans at capacity and has, while looking south, one of the more picturesque backgrounds for a rugby test in the world, as Cape Town’s Table Mountain looms in the distance. 

Yes, Cape Town Stadium may lack the sheer history of some of the other names on this list, especially with the Newlands Stadium — South Africa’s oldest — having been a fixture of rugby in the city since the late 1880s. But the stadium, which hosted the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens and had a raucous atmosphere for the 2023 URC final (where the Stormers were beaten by Munster), is seeing its prestige in the sport grow year after year. 

Further runs in competitions from the Stormers should only help it be viewed by more and more rugby fans as a must-see venue. The glamour of the ground is, clearly, already there.