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The joy of Six.

In two days it begins - the 2009 RBS Six Nations. The trips, the tours, the singing, the bragging rights, new friendships formed over post-match analysis and a few ales, and all swirling around 15 titanic games of rugby. With just two games in Cardiff this year, Welsh fans have trips to Rome and Paris to look forward to and many will today already be en route to Edinburgh - weather permitting. But whether you're planning to sample the culture of the Eternal City, the glamour of the French capital, take in the view from Arthur's Seat or just join the sea of fans taking over Cardiff, every city has its own case for being the rugby fans' favourite. Here, six people in the know argue the case for their city

Gareth Morgan, of the Irish Independent, says quality is the key to Dublin

ACCORDING to unrepealed by-laws of 1896, a Welshman can still be hung for high treason if he dares suggest that anywhere other than Cardiff is the best place to watch a rugby match.

And the magic of the Millennium Stadium holds a powerful hiraeth for this Welshman living in Dublin.

But when it comes to the overall city experience, the people and the pubs, Dublin is up there at the top of the tree.

For the travelling fan, the journey to Ireland is itself part of the adventure, though the prospect of pints and sandwiches costing a fiver a pop is somewhat less appealing.

But there is light in the economic gloom.

At Irish rugby's current home in Croke Park, and with the newly redeveloped Lansdowne Road on its way, the days of shivering on the damp terraces of the decrepit old Lansdowne are over.

"Croker" is a massive cauldron of a stadium, capacity 82,000, and tickets have been in plentiful supply for travelling fans.

At a recent fireworks extravaganza in the stadium, spectators were reminded they outnumbered crowds at Old Trafford and even the Super Bowl.

Croke Park is in northside Dublin, an area previously unexplored by rugby fans. It is an atmospheric corner of the city, with the faded glamour of the Georgian architecture and dozens of local pubs devoted to hurling and Gaelic football.

These are the haunt of gritty "Northsiders", though the match crowd will be a heady mix of Dublin "Southsiders" - think Twickers without the Englishness - Ulstermen and hardcore Munster fans from Limerick and Cork.

It makes for an interesting cocktail of accents and opinions.

Cardiff has a march on most cities when it comes to quantity of pubs within a stone's throw of the stadium.

But Dublin offers a different prospect to St Mary Street's vertical drinking barns with their pack 'em in and stack 'em high philosophy.

Dublin boasts quality, with pubs that are lively, historic, quirky and on almost every street corner.

As James Joyce himself wrote: "A good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub" - not a conundrum most rugby fans attempt to solve on international weekend.

There are simply too many great boozers to list them all, ranging from humble backstreet affairs to grand hotel bars.

If your thirst is still not quenched, there's also the world famous Guinness Brewery and Jameson Distillery.

Everyone who has ever visited Dublin will have their own favourite hostelry. If it's your first visit, I won't spoil the fun. Just follow the locals and let luck be your guide.

Dublin's enduring appeal is such that some Welsh supporters come for the Six Nations even on "odd years" such as 2009 when the teams clash in Cardiff. The flights to Ireland are a damn sight cheaper for some reason.

In fact, the only downside to the 2009 Six Nations in Dublin will be the fact that there won't be many Welsh or Scots in town.

Those fans always bring passion, music and camaraderie. They boost the party in what is already a party city.

The French and the English have their charms, but they just don't provide the same hwyl. Or should that be craic?

Scottish rugby journalist David Kelso says Edinburgh has everything a rugby day needs: culture, pubs - and perhaps a few split loyalties

IT MAY be the most northerly outpost of the Six Nations battleground, but there is no debate about the fact Edinburgh is the most homely and hospitable venue on the circuit.

The historic nature of Scotland's capital, along with the array and diversity of watering holes and grazing places, makes it the No 1 magnet for fans from Wales, Ireland and France. England?

Hmmm, the jury is still out on that one - and probably always will be.

OK, so Cardiff has a castle, but it is really just a wee toy compared with the magnificence of Edinburgh Castle. I liken it to Table Mountain in terms of presence - no matter where you are in the city, it is eminently visible.

In its shadows, Princes Street is the time-honoured meeting place for the march to Murrayfield, about two miles to the west.

This trek should take a fit young man about half-an-hour. Yeah, right! It would be utterly remiss, not to say rude, of the legions if they were to snub the opportunity to visit some of the other local tourist attractions en route, like the Kenilworth Inn, the Haymarket Arms and the Roseburn Vaults to name but three.

Having left the castle behind, the other fortress is, of course, Murrayfield itself. The more mature members of Wales' Red Army will recall with fondness the epic encounters of the 1970s.

There was the most stunning conversion of all time from John Taylor - and there was the world record 104,000 crowd sardined into the stadium a couple of seasons later.

Since that decade, however, successes for the Welsh have been as rare as hens' teeth. Ask Martyn Williams, who has won there only once in five visits.

But even in defeat, followers of Wales have invariably had a ball before and after the match in the pubs and restaurants in and around the city centre.

Rose Street is the prime location for hitting the bevvy, and one of the most attractive features of this half-mile stretch of cobbles is that none of the hostelries serves Brain's beer!

Rugby lads and lasses love a curry after their evening "sesh" and Edinburgh plays host to some of the top-rated Indian eateries in the UK.

Patrons, however, are expected to slurp back at least four pints of Tennents with their bhoonas and vindaloos.

There is no shortage of other cosmopolitan nosh houses - fabulous French, spiffing Spanish and, especially, Italian.

Yes, Edinburgh provides the ultimate package for Six Nations fans - as thousands of Welsh folk will no doubt testify come Monday. That's if they opt to go home at all.

In the aftermath of the heady days of the '70s, there were tales galore of Welshmen ripping up the return portion of their travel tickets.

This may have something to do with the fact that some of the most popular babies' names logged with the register offices during that particular era were Jock Williams, Hamish Davies, Roddy Rees, Jimmy Thomas, Iona John, Fiona Edwards and Catriona Hopkins.

Maybe they will all be part of the crowd this weekend - but just who will they be supporting?

Paul Carey of The Daily Telegraph says London's diversity is unparalleled

OF all the Six Nations venues, Twickenham holds the least interest for the travelling Welsh fan.

"There's no city centre," they moan. "It's too far to walk to the pub," they cry. And most frequently, "It's full of English people." While all three statements are true, and the sight of a Barbour-jacketed Hooray Henry quaffing champers from the back ofaLand Rover in the car park can raise the hackles of even the most mild-mannered Welshman, it shouldn't put off the intrepid rugby supporter from enjoying a weekend away.

The newly-refurbished "HQ" makes it the most modern of all the Six Nations stadiums (at least until Lansdowne Road is finished) with a capacity of 82,000.

And improved hospitality suites - plus the credit crunch - mean there will hopefully be fewer al-fresco diners being entertained on the corporate expense account this year.

Once you've got over the prejudices of being on enemy soil, there is certainly plenty to see and enjoy. Twickenham may not have the thronging pubs of Temple Bar, Princes St or St Mary St, but within 20 minutes of leaving the ground you can be in Richmond, and within half-an-hour at Waterloo or the West End.

Richmond is the best bet for a night out with other rugby fans - whether it's singing on the free bus laid on outside the stadium, enjoying the pubs that line the Thames, or heading to Old Deer Park to the home of London Welsh.

On international weekend it's not just an island of Welshness for homesick exiles, but a magnet for anyone who holds the three feathers dear.

You're as likely to bump into a neighbour, old friend or work colleague at the bar as you will at any pub in Edinburgh or Dublin.

If you head to central London you can easily spend the rest of the night without seeing another rugby fan (and for the 20 years of Welsh defeats that was probably a good thing) but what it lacks in sporting fervour, it makes up for with the best of everything else - Michelin-starred restaurants, great bars, the most fashionable clubs, chic shops, luxury hotels, and the cultural mix you will struggle to find anywhere else in the world.

It may have been 1777 when Samuel Johnson proclaimed that any man tired of London is tired of life, but the city still has all that life can afford.

Soho's "liberal" drinking dens are a match for anything Paris can offer, you can hang out with Wags at Stringfellow's, dine with real celebs at The Ivy (if you book early enough), listen to jazz in Camden or just soak up the buzz of life in a big city as you wander along the Embankment or through Leicester Square.

If all of that is still not enough to persuade a modern rugby fan there's more to an international weekend than cramming into a chain bar dressed in comedy wig, there's one other thing a match at Twickenham can boast - it's only two hours back to Cardiff.

Media Wales' Steffan Rhys says Cardiff stirs the spirit

ABREATHLESS Windsor Davies running trouserless across half of Paris to reach Parc des Princes, fresh from a French police cell, is a scene you're unlikely to see recreated in Cardiff.

Not because the behaviour of Welsh fans on matchday is beyond reproach - the antics of Davies' Mog Jones in rugby classic Grand Slam are tame compared to some - but because the Millennium Stadium is no more than a short walk from almost anywhere you could find yourself pre-match.

Few stadiums are so perfectly central as the home of Welsh rugby. Certainly, none of the other five contenders in the Six Nations come close. Cardiff's nucleic centre - over which the Millennium Stadium has loomed large like Kafka's Castle since 1999 - is the reason it is the Six Nations' number one matchday city.

OK, it can't compare with the back alley, low-beamed, graffitietched bars of Dublin, or the chilled carafes of red wine enjoyed alfresco in springtime Rome.

Compared to Paris, London and even Edinburgh, the sights are a bit thin on the ground too.

And though the city centre is becoming a generic zone of chrome-furnished modern bars and chain restaurants - how many gourmet burger joints does a town need? - the gems are still there for those who know where to look. And it is there that songs about pure hearts and white goats still ring out from the Mochyn Du, the Old Arcade and the Vulcan Hotel.

Meanwhile, the Brains, the Butty Bach and the Tomos Watkin flows and the Welsh girls put on impromptu amateur cabaret shows in the upstairs window of the Prince of Wales for the hordes of grateful men on the streets below. And no need to set foot on a bus or a tube, or look at a map, to find your way to some stadium out in the suburbs.

The atmosphere as hundreds of thousands of fans pack the bars, clog the main arteries and flow to the stadium in a sea of red down St Mary Street and Westgate Street is unique to Cardiff.

And put yourself in the position of the first-time visiting fan, emerging from Cardiff Central station to see that stadium in front of you, its four spires pointing to the sky.

Instantly, they know they are in a city and a nation that has rugby at its core.

And perhaps therein is the key.

Cardiff is a rugby city like no other, Wales a rugby nation like no other.

Edinburgh? It's more about the football. Dublin? Same goes. In London and Paris, rugby is barely on the radar. And Rome? Do they even know there's a match on?

The dear old bedraggled Arms Park has gone, and rightly so. It belongs to a bygone age.

And while the new stadium's crowds no longer remember all the words to Bread of Heaven or Hymns and Arias, they'll give it their best shot. Deep down, they know it's their heritage.

In Wales, it's more than rugby, it's a way of life. And you can feel that in the Cardiff air.

How can any other city on Earth claim to match Paris, asks Ian Borthwick of L'Equipe

LET'S get one thing straight. Paris is not the greatest city to visit for a Six Nations game.

Paris is the greatest city to visit, period.

To watch Les Bleus play on their home pitch is not simply an opportunity to witness France's idiosyncratic version of rugby passion, or to marvel at the fickle nature of the Stade de France crowd.

It is, above all, a chance to take an intimate look at one of the world's great capitals and plunge headlong into a foreign culture in a city which, although only an hour's flight away, has a sophistication and elegance about it which is light years away from anything on the "wrong" side of the Channel.

What is special about rugby trips to Paris is that, even for the most avid oneeyed travelling fans, the rugby itself invariably becomes a minor detail.

There is such a spectacular range of things to do, see and taste, and if you make the effort to wander off the beaten tourist trail, and bother to learn a few key words of French, that investment will be rewarded a thousandfold.

In fact, here's a tip: even if you don't speak French, there are three essential words which will make all the difference to your stay.

If you can say "Bonjour", "Merci", and "Gallois" (Welsh), you cannot only take care of basic greetings and polite thanks but, most significantly, you can make sure they do not think you are English!

Otherwise, what more can possibly be said about Paris?

That it is the world's most beautiful city, that its museums, monuments, shops and restaurants are second to none?

That no other major capital combines so seamlessly the grandiose with the intimate?

Strolling down the Champs-Elysees, near the Welsh team hotel for instance, taking in the spectacular vistas of the Place de la Concorde, or standing on the Pont Neuf with the Louvre in one direction and Notre Dame in the other, are some of the most inspiring city scapes created by man.

But Paris is also, and above all, a city of neighbourhood quartiers, tranquil little villages in the vast throbbing metropolis, each with their own charm and joie de vivre.

With some 180 museums, Paris has enough even for the keenest of culture vultures.

Last year, of the 70 million tourists who visited Paris, seven million paid to go up the Eiffel Tower.

It's worth doing. But to know the real Paris, there is no need to queue anywhere or pay an entry fee.

Just go to any of the myriad quartiers like Saint-Germain, or Saint-Michel on the left bank, the Marais and the Bastille on the Right Bank, or l'Ile Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine.

Follow your nose, wander around the streets, stopping for a glass of red wine and some finely-sliced salami or ham from rugby's heartland in south-west France.

Just make sure you remember the three magic words: "Bonjour", "Merci", "Gallois"...

Former Roma, Viadana and Neath lock Ockert Booyse says there's no place like Rome

IREMEMBER the first time I saw the Colosseum. Just after I arrived in Rome, some friends took me to see it at night.

Few sites in the world can match it, fewer still in other Six Nations host cities.

Whether it's the culture, the food, the style or, yes, even the ever-improving rugby on show at Stadio Flaminio, Rome is the ultimate Six Nations fan's trip.

Its size means you won't find the concentration of rugby fans which makes Cardiff such an experience, but head for Campo de Fiori, the downtown piazza where hundreds go every night to party; Trastevere, whose narrow alleys are lined with bars; or Testaccio, home to popular bars and nightclubs, and you'll find the atmosphere.

Rome's mild temperatures and stunning sites are the perfect venue for an outdoor cocktail, and fans are becoming more content with hanging around the mobile bars at the Stadio Flaminio for a while.

Nothing dies down at night, but it's a lot calmer - the Italians are too respectful a people to be rowdy drunks.

However, the Italian capital is limiting alcohol sales in neighbourhoods famous for their nightlife to clamp down on loud, all-night partying, with no alcohol "to go" being sold in bars, restaurants, supermarkets or other outlets after 9pm, while the sale of alcohol inside bars and restaurants, though not discos, is banned after 2am.

The ban remains in effect until March.

As well as the Colosseum - where there are, incidentally, also plenty of bars, pizzerias and pasta restaurants - you've got the Spanish Steps, St Peter's Basilica and the Baroque splendour of the Piazza Navona.

And the stadium is no more than a short taxi ride away. But, beware, it'savery busy place and they drive like lunatics. I've nearly killed two people on scooters myself - but I suppose it just adds to the character of the place.

As do the people. Italians, they don't give a damn about anybody else. They are friendly enough and lovely people, but if you can't speak Italian you'll find yourself in a bit of a mess.

And, of course, they are the most stylish in Europe. Go anywhere in Rome and they are always dressed up. The way the women dress - the men too for that matter - is unbelievable.

Even the Carabinieri's uniforms are designed by Armani.

While the rugby culture may not be that of other cities, support for the Italian team is growing year by year and you'll be amazed at the support inside the stadium, which is sold out.

It would take several years to get a true grip on Rome and what it's all about.

I lived there for a year, which is nowhere near enough, so for a weekend you'll just have to try your best to get as much of an idea as you can.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 5, 2009
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