There is something enormously exciting – in the build-up to a major sporting event – to knowing that some of the planet's finest players will be lining up all but on your doorstep.
This will certainly be the case for rugby fans as summer inches towards autumn in 2023. While the 2019 edition of the game's greatest international challenge was a huge success, both on and off the field – no-one would deny that Japan was a wonderful host – the first Rugby World Cup in the Far East took place a long way from the sport's traditional heartlands. This will not be true of the follow-up. The 10th edition of the Rugby World Cup will play out on the pitches of northern Europe – in France, from September 8 to October 28 2023.
This is a particularly appealing state of affairs for lovers of the game on the other side of the Channel. All four British and Irish rugby nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – have already qualified, and will be present at the tournament. All four will believe that they have a fair chance of winning it. As, of course, will the home side. Matters will conclude in the noisy arena of the Stade de France, in northern Paris, and Les Bleus will hope their time to be champions has finally arrived. There will be quite the party if it has.
Of course, Rugby World Cup will line up in cities other than Paris. It will be a country-wide bonanza, carrying the ruck and the maul to all corners of the Gallic landscape. And it will venture to cities that, though of varying sizes, offer a consistently enjoyable experience for travellers and supporters. You can count on any French city to serve up glorious food and a lively bar scene – but also beautiful buildings, incredible art galleries and special scenery. This will be true whether matches are taking place in the north, in the borderlands close to Belgium (Lille) in the east, in the shadow of the Alps (Lyon, Saint-Etienne) – or in the west, close to the beaches of the Atlantic (Nantes, Bordeaux).
Then there is the bottom of the country. Arguably, Rugby World Cup 2023 will be at its most atmospheric when it reaches those southern cities (Toulouse) where rugby is a religion – while “neighbours” (Marseille and Nice) will provide Mediterranean sunshine to go with the roar of the crowd. The tournament will add up to six weeks of top-level sporting competition in a spectacular setting. You need to be there.