Northern Hemisphere Rugby Cities: Union and League representation

The Northern Hemisphere has a few cities that have both rugby union and league. These cities have one rugby code in the first-tier and a second-tier in another code. Furthermore, all three of these cities could very easily have a tier-one team in both codes of rugby.

Two of them had first-tier teams in both codes of rugby last year. However, both the London Broncos and USA Perpignan have been relegated to the second-tier last year. It is a very exclusive list to be on. Furthermore, do not be surprised if any of these cities have a tier-one pro rugby league and union team next year.

Europe – Northern Hemisphere

France – Toulouse, Occitanie

Toulouse is home to the defending Top 14 champion Stade Toulousain. Stade Toulousain is one of the most successful clubs in rugby union winning the Heineken Cup a joint-record four times. They have also won the French Championship a record 20 times. Stade Toulousain drew 18,224 fans per game in the 2018-19 Top 14 season. This is good enough to be second in attendance for Top 14.

Stade Toulousain is also much more popular than its professional rugby league counterpart Toulouse Olympique XIII. According to James Gordon of Love Rugby League, the attendance of Toulouse Olympique XIII was 2,488. This is fifth in attendance with the second-tier Championship in England. Toulouse Olympique XIII won the third-tier League One in 2016.

Both teams are popular in Toulouse. Although, Stade Toulousain has simply accomplished a lot more than Toulouse Olympique XIII. As a result, Stade Toulousain is a much more popular team than Toulouse Olympique XIII. However, a promotion for Toulouse Olympique would do wonders for a local French derby with the Catalan Dragons.

Perpignan, Occitanie

Another French city in the region of Occitanie, the southwest part of France is a rugby stronghold. This is no different for Perpignan. Like Salford and Toronto, Perpignan had first-tier teams in both rugby league and union. However, USA Perpignan, their rugby union team was relegated in 2019 from Pro 14 to Rugby Pro D2.

Their most notable achievements were winning the Top 14 championship seven times including as recently as 2009. They were also runners-up in the 2003 Heineken Cup. In the 2018-19 Top 14 season, USA Perpignan drew an average of 11,483 fans per game.

This is remarkably similar to the attendance of first-tier team Catalan Dragons. The Dragons drew an average attendance of 10,560 fans per game in the 2019 Betfred Super League season. The Dragons in 2006 were granted permission to play directly in the English first-tier Super League as there was no promotion/relegation at the time.

This played a big part in the Dragons having direct entry into Super League. They also proved that the sport of rugby league in the northern hemisphere can work outside of England. The Catalan Dragons have not won a Super League title yet but they have won the 2018 Challenge Cup.

At Wembley Stadium, the Catalan Dragons defeated the Warrington Wolves 20-14 to be the first-ever French team to win the Challenge Cup.

It is difficult to say which pro rugby team is more popular in Perpignan. However, the edge might go to USA Perpignan as they had slightly higher attendance.

United Kingdom – London, England

Rugby Union in London

There is a division of rugby league and union in England. The division is that the north is a rugby league stronghold and the south is a rugby union stronghold. This logic applies to London, England as they are a rugby union stronghold. They currently have two teams in the top-tier Premiership rugby; Saracens and Harlequins. Arguably there is a third, London Irish, but they have been located in Reading for 20 years. However, they will relocate back to London next season when they move to Brentford, maintaining the city’s two union teams.

This is because Saracens will be relegated to the RFU Championship in 2020. They were initially fined £5.4m and deducted 35 points for breaching the salary cap three years in a row.

Exeter Chiefs Chief Executive Tony Rowe said this about Saracens’ relegation:

“They had two choices: they could either open up their books so that Premiership Rugby could do a forensic audit of exactly what has gone on, or they could take relegation. So, it was their choice not to open up their books.”

In the 2018-19 season, the Saracens averaged 11,985 fans per game, including their annual match at Wembley. Harlequins averaged an attendance of 19,303 people per game in the same season, including their Big Game at Twickenham. The Harlequins’ recent accomplishments included winning the European Challenge Cup in 2011, the English Premiership in 2012, and the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2013, and the LV Cup in 2012.


London Rugby League

London’s main pro rugby league team, the London Broncos, was originally named Fulham R.L.F.C. The Broncos, unlike its rugby union counterparts, was founded relatively recently in 1980. The Broncos once drew 15,013 fans against Wakefield (now Wakefield Trinity) in 1981. However, the team has had a bumpy road as of late.

The Broncos were in Super League from 1996-2014 and made the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1999. They did defeat the Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game to get into Super League again in 2019. However, they were relegated back into the Championship at the conclusion of the 2019 Betfred Super League season.

The London Broncos averaged only 2,021 fans per game in the 2019 Super League season. This is far less than its rugby union counterparts. Still, the Broncos have a bright future. They are one of the teams trying to get promoted to the Super League in 2020.

Overview of Northern Hemisphere Rugby Cities with Both League and Union

These three northern hemisphere cities are traditional rugby hotbeds. This is especially true for Perpignan, which has good attendance for both rugby union and league. Toulouse and London are also rugby hotbeds but do not have high attendance for rugby league.

One might wonder why New York City was not included on this list. They have a pro rugby union team with Rugby United New York. However, the rugby league New York City team has not been officially confirmed by the Rugby Football League (RFL).

Any of these three cities can have both first-tier rugby league and union. USA Perpignan was in the promotion zone before the French D2 League got cancelled because of coronavirus. Furthermore, Toulouse Olympique XIII and the London Broncos could get promotions into Super League next year. This is because Super League and the Rugby Football League (RFL) are thinking of promoting one Championship team to Super League this year.

This elite list is likely to grow as the years go on. This is especially true when the expansion of both codes of rugby continues in North America.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images