Monday Maul looks back at the stadiums that showcased rugby's best

After one of the greatest nationwide shows since The Beatles went on the road in 1963, the Rugby World Cup will now be played out in just three venues. Twickenham will host five more matches, Cardiff two and the Olympic Stadium will be the venue for the bronze final. With the World Cup now based in the south of England and a corner of Wales, we look at a potential missed opportunity to take one of the knockout games away from one of the traditional options.

To date, 13 grounds have been used, taking the 20 teams the length and breadth of the country. ESPN's team of reporters give their views, memories and feedback on the various stadiums the tournament has travelled to but will no longer be exposed to the competition:

Birmingham -- Villa Park

Birmingham isn't the first place that springs to mind when you think of great rugby towns but the double-header at Villa Park certainly didn't disappoint. Near-capacity crowds turned out for South Africa-Samoa and Australia-Uruguay on consecutive days with the Springboks' fans, in particular, helping to create a wonderful atmosphere. There were the obligatory, and now seemingly rather silly, renditions of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" but otherwise both games were high on colour and vibrancy. It's not like the Wallabies supporters had to look far for a watering hole post-match either; have you heard of Walkabout bars?

Brighton -- Brighton Community Stadium

A home of Championship football, Brighton showed this country can in fact host a major sporting event with near perfect organisation. Thirty thousand vociferous fans were rewarded with one of the greatest moments in sporting history as Japan shocked the Springboks on the tournament's opening weekend. The downside? The Amex (as it is known by most other than the World Cup organisers) was miles away from the beach-based Fanzone, although transport between the two appeared seamless.

Exeter -- Sandy Park

As a Devon boy born and bred, Alex Perry joined the rest of the West Country in celebrating long into the night when Sandy Park, home of the Exeter's Aviva Premiership side, the Chiefs, was announced as a Rugby World Cup venue.

Just a short walk through a city swamped in bunting and England 2015 paraphernalia would tell you everything you need to know about how Exeter has taken to hosting Italy, Romania, Georgia, Tonga and Namibia. Every volunteer had a beaming smile to not only help you, but welcome you to their community.

"Oh, it's been fantastic," one volunteer told ESPN, her thick Devonshire accent warm and comforting. "The whole south west has really come together. We have volunteers from as far away as the other end of Cornwall, while some have come down from Bristol."

An array of rugby shirts from all over the region on show at Italy's win over Romania showed the imprint the World Cup left on this small, rugby-mad corner of the United Kingdom.

Gloucester -- Kingsholm

Kingsholm, a shining jewel in the English rugby crown, had the honour of hosting four games -- and did so with perfect gusto. Gloucester played home to passionate Argentinians, bellowing Scots, partying Georgians and -- finally -- the crazy Japanese. In the setting sun, the 2019 hosts partied with their American counterparts: a fitting image to promote our global game.

Leeds -- Elland Road

Elland R oad is used to seeing Leeds United on its hallowed turf but the sheer size of the arena made it a special place to witness the oval-ball game. Organisers should be congratulated for 'rugby-fying' the ground with plenty of World Cup paraphernalia. If you were looking for a downside, the shorter in-goal area caused some difficulty.

Leicester -- Leicester City Stadium

The hordes of fans on the 8:50 'Rugby Special' from St Pancras International were met with a warm welcome by a drumming band at Leicester station before Argentina vs. Namibia, but things turned a little frostier about 10 minutes down the road. As the bottlenecked thousands slowly shuffled forward towards Leicester City Stadium, we all had to take a left at Welford Road. A few people presumably affiliated with the club stood outside with banners and placards -- one reading 'Bar' (and helpfully with the Spanish translation 'Comida below it) in an attempt to entice spectators away for a brief moment into the home of Leicester Tigers.

There was a definite sense that some supporters of the Aviva Premiership club were bitter about Argentina's clash with Namibia, and several other World Cup games, being played at Leicester City Football Club's stadium. Perhaps, quite rightly so. Surely this tournament should be about supporting local rugby clubs, and Leicester Tigers are one of the biggest in the country. It is quite possible that this factor had something to do with the empty seats around the Leicester City Stadium. The capacity is 32,262 but there were just over 30,000 inside on Sunday for Argentina vs. Namibia.

Still, that did not detract from a thrilling occasion. This was a rugby match played more at the pace and intensity of a sevens contest. Retiring prop Johnny Redelinghuys kicking for goal in Namibia's last act of the World Cup was also arguably one of the best moments of the tournament so far.

London -- Wembley

Wembley has been a wonderful venue for this tournament. Once you have dodged the lines of ticket touts and the individual bellowing predictions of the apocalypse, you are welcomed into the cauldron of noise. The atmosphere for New Zealand's game against Argentina was truly special and then, when Ireland took over the ground for their game against Romania, it was as if the whole of the Emerald Isle had decamped to north London. Wembley would have had more games but for the NFL organisers booking it up in advance -- a crying shame.

Manchester -- City of Manchester Stadium

There was trepidation within the England camp over exactly what reaction they would get from the locals when they arrived here on Saturday to face Uruguay, but they need not have worried a jot. As Oasis' Rock'n'Roll Star boomed out, the England players traipsed off the bus with a renewed sense of optimism despite their premature exit from the World Cup.

It is a shame that Manchester only had one game. The city was meant to have more but then Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson pulled the plug on any World Cup games at Old Trafford after England's match against Argentina harmed the turf in 2009.

Just before kick-off for England's final game of the tournament, Wonderwall was being played over the PA and there was a jovial feeling inside the ground. The country's north-western population was keen to put on a show. This all added to the feeling that the RFU should take more games away from its Twickenham base. The World Cup has been seen as a chance to build a legacy and while England's dismal performance may have harmed the potential for that, this match in Manchester will hopefully live long in the memory of those there.

"The crowd were absolutely magnificent," Nick Easter said. "More games should be played up here if it's like that. When we came off the coach, the ovation that we got was if we'd won the thing. The crowd was fantastic."

Milton Keynes -- stadiummk

Milton Keynes is not a town that garners endless good press, but the people who live there seem to love it and now, too, will thousands who traipsed there to watch some rugby. Having already hosted Northampton Saints, stadiummk is no stranger to union and following the success of the last few weeks it is only fitting that they are preparing to welcome the club again. The size of the ground was perfect for the games it hosted and an incredible atmosphere was generated for both France vs. Canada and Japan vs. Samoa.

The good atmosphere was not confined to the stands -- or Milton Keynes. A feature of visiting stadiummk has been how pleased everyone involved seems to be to be hosting a few World Cup games.

No moaning here that they 'only' had a few pool games. Instead everyone you came into contact with appeared delighted you were visiting their town and determined to ensure you had the best possible time there. The result of this bonhomie was clear to anyone who has attended a match here, as fans beamed with smiles. It is this enthusiasm that the tournament must work hard to ensure it does not lose.

Newcastle -- St James' Park

St James' Park's original inclusion might have caused a few grumbles among the purists, but packing the 40-50,000 well-refreshed rugby fans into the steep stands ensured a wonderful atmosphere. Despite its football heritage, it really wasn't overpowering and it felt like rugby was in its rightful place. The pitch struggled under the weight of the packs while there was the odd hint of a football centre-circle lurking from the previous weekend's action. St James' Park had just one big screen for TMO replays, which was hidden from view for those in the East Stand. But it housed two wonderful games.

Additional reporting: Sam Bruce, Rob Bartlett, Alex Perry, Tristan Barclay, Nic Atkin, and Martyn Thomas