Major tournaments in world rugby – like the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship – will always have their place in the sporting calendar. But as a true rugby fan, there’s a unique side of the sport that you have to see, and it’s made to be experienced live. Exhibition rugby is a step outside the regular season or the international fixture list – and like all one-off specials, there’s an extra chance of the unexpected. Maybe you’re introducing friends to the game or taking the family to their first match; if so, it’s a perfect way to start a lifelong passion for rugby.
Exhibition rugby – a showcase for the sport
What attracts so many people to exhibition rugby? It has to be the variety. Looking for the sunny, social side of the game? Check out tournaments like the Bournemouth Sevens. It’s a multi-sport mash-up of touch rugby and grassroots tournaments. played alongside an elite invitational cup that attracts amateur greats like the RAF Spitfires and the Army 7s. Throw in impressive main-stage music, some glamping, cold lager and plenty of deckchairs, and you have an exhibition rugby festival.
Exhibition games may not be tournament matches, but they can still have plenty of competitive edge. The appeal of legends games is that they reunite international team-mates and rekindle old rivalries: previous Rugby Aid matches have pitted Shane Williams’s Rest of the World side against an England XV captained by his old Six Nations adversary Mike Tindall. These charity games are also a great way to give something back to the rugby community and the wider world.
Whichever game you choose, there’s bound to be a special atmosphere. In its sportsmanship, sociability and sense of adventure on the pitch, exhibition rugby represents a link to the rugby culture of the amateur era – which speaks to the sporting romantic inside all of us.
Exhibition rugby – the appeal of the big game
Goodwill tours and exhibition games have played a huge part in spreading rugby beyond its traditional nations. The All Blacks drew the crowds for their 2014 match against the USA at Soldier Field, while London Irish and Harlequins are among the top-flight teams to have played stateside friendlies and hosted coaching sessions.
For many fans, the ultimate exhibition rugby tickets are for the Barbarians matches. The world’s most famous team selected by invitation, they are also rugby ambassadors – players born in Georgia, the Netherlands, Norway and the USA have all pulled on the famous black and white hoops. And even fans too young to remember Cardiff Arms Park in 1973 have heard of “that try” and “that game”.