Rugby World Cup 2011

World Cup fever grips Wales

2011-10-14 20:19
Wales (Gallo Images)

Cardiff - Excitement was building in rugby-mad Wales ahead of Saturday's World Cup semi-final against France, a once-in-a-generation clash being played on the other side of the planet in New Zealand.

More than 60 000 fans were expected to gather in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, the cathedral of Welsh rugby, to follow the action from Eden Park in Auckland on giant screens.

The 74 500-seater Millennium Stadium, in the heart of the Welsh capital, is opening its doors for free at 07:00 GMT, an hour before the kick-off in New Zealand.

Eden Park only holds 60 000 so it is possible there will be more people roaring on Wales at the Millennium than watching the match for real.

The organisers of "Wake up for Wales" have been overwhelmed by the response, thinking that if they could get 25 000 fans through the turnstiles at that time on a Saturday morning it would have been an achievement.

"Throughout the pool stages and last weekend's quarter-final we saw pubs and rugby clubs opening early to allow fans to gather together to support Wales," said Craig Maxwell, the Welsh Rugby Union's head of sales and marketing.

"Now we want to give everyone the chance to join forces for this momentous match and show the players and management that the whole nation is truly behind them."

The only other time Wales reached a World Cup semi-final was in 1987, when they lost to hosts New Zealand.

"This is a once-in-a-generation game and we want the players to know that their extraordinary performances in New Zealand have captured the imagination of everyone back home," Maxwell said.

"It is an opportunity for whole families to show their support for the team and to help turn Saturday into a never-to-be-forgotten occasion for Welsh rugby and Wales.

"In years to come people will always remember where they were when Wales played France in the World Cup semi-finals - where better than the Millennium Stadium?"

An additional big screen was being lined up to cope with the demand.

In the second city of Swansea, crowds were also expected to gather at Castle Square to watch the action live there on a giant screen.

At the Millennium, Welsh vocal stars Sophie Evans and Only Men Aloud were set to entertain the fans, with the bars serving coffee and bacon rolls to perk up any sleepy heads before the pints start flowing at the kick-off.

Fans could reserve up to six free tickets each, and anyone not wearing red risks being turned away.

It is only the third time that the stadium has opened its doors for a vital Wales match elsewhere, though the 2003 and 2004 events were to see the football side.

The last event at the stadium was Saturday's "Michael Forever" tribute show, which saw 40 000 Michael Jackson fans turn up to honour the late king of pop.

Once the action is over, fans will pour out into the city centre to start the party or the commiserations.

Bars, pubs and clubs have been stocking up on booze in case Wales make their first ever World Cup final.

Cardiff brewery SA Brains said sales in its pubs were already up eight percent compared with this time last year.

Cardiff on a Saturday night is habitually an intense experience and if Wales win, October 15 will be quite an occasion.


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