The English capital boasts five top rugby union sides competing in the Aviva Premiership. The profile and history of Harlequins, Wasps, Saracens, London Irish and London Welsh has waxed and waned over the years, but they tell the story of a city passionate about the game.
The chequered strip of Harlequins has been a familiar one to rugby union fans since their inception in 1866. Based at the Twickenham Stoop, which they share with league side London Broncos, “Quins” are the reigning champions of the Aviva Premiership. This success follows a relatively quiet period for them since their legendary team of the early 90s, from which, Will Carling, Jason Leonard, Brian Moore et al led England to the World Cup final.
By far the most successful side from the capital of the last decade have been London Wasps, who have won the Premiership four times and the European Cup twice in that time. The men in black, founded back in 1867, are based at Adam’s Park in Middlesex, from where Sir Ian McGeechan masterminded a side featuring the likes of James Haskell and Danny Cipriani to follow in the footsteps of legendary Wasps and England captains like Lawrence Dallaglio and Rob Andrew.
The Old Boys of St. Marylebone Grammar School founded Saracens in 1867 and although currently homeless – awaiting a stadium renewal – they vie for the position of North London’s number one rugby club with the aforementioned Wasps. “Sarries” have always been there or thereabouts at the top of the English game and had their highest finish since 1997 last season when they took third place with a side boasting Owen Farrell, Charlie Hodgson and Schalk Brits of New Zealand. Despite featuring former legends such as Francois Pienaar and record try scorer Thomas Castaignède, they have not taken the title in the professional era. Many tip them to break this duck in the 2012/13 season.
London Irish have also gone a long time without title glory. Predictably wearing green, their 10-9 loss to Leicester Tigers in the 2008 Premiership final is the closest they have come in recent years. Consistently mid-table, they won the cup in 2002, and their base at Reading FC’s Madejski Stadium has seen a host of top Irish international talent as well as current England crop Alex Corbisiero and Jonathan Joseph.
Finally, arguably the least prestigious or successful, but still a proud addition to the capital, London Welsh regained their position in the top flight of the English game this season after a successful appeal to the RFU and the acquisition of a ground-share at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium. Though they only retained precarious professional status in 2009, Welsh have a long history of fielding national greats, particularly in the 70s when the likes of John Dawes, JPR Williams and Mervyn Davies wore the red shirt.
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