Two nations with pride at their core

Rob Hastings, John Lichfield, and Eleanor Stanford on the rugby World Cup semi-final

Cardiff

It's Wear Red For Wales Day in workplaces across Cardiff today, though the unwavering optimism in the capital means they need little encouragement to wish "pob lwc" (good luck) to their boys.

Every bar, club and café in the city centre is expected to be open from 7.30am sharp for tomorrow's Rugby World Cup semi-final against France, with the focal point undoubtedly the big screens of the Millennium Stadium. As many as 53,000 fans have already claimed their tickets to watch the game at the ground, where pre-game emotions will be stirred in traditional fashion by male choir Only Men Allowed and local singer Sophie Evans.

Yet, impressively, the city is not using it as a cynical wheeze to squeeze money out of its inhabitants. Shops are certainly hoping for a spending boost, but the screening at the Millennium Stadium will be free, providing entrants are wearing red, of course. And at the clubhouse of local team Cardiff Blues, where fans will be cheering their own Sam Warburton as he leads the side out in Auckland, the 150 sought-after tickets to watch the game cost a mere £3, with a bacon roll thrown in.

Tonight, however, the Blues' marketing manager, Gwydion Griffiths, expects the city to be quiet in anticipation of some early wake-up calls. "A lot of people will want to save themselves for the match," he said, "and hopefully an all-day celebration afterwards."

With the big game bringing swarms of fans from all over the province, Ed Townsend from the city's tourist board is expecting widespread drinking.

"If you're coming down from the valleys, what are you going to do? Personally, I would have a few," he said.

Group Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, Roger Lewis, is also excited. "The response from supporters since we announced the plan to open up the stadium on Saturday has been magnificent," he said. "Our players in New Zealand will be able to visualise packed rugby clubs, families gathered around televisions and, of course, a huge crowd at the stadium."

But there has been little sign of gallic spirit from the area's smattering of French ex-pats. "They're keeping a bit quiet," said Mr Townsend.

"The restaurants are just opening as usual – presumably so French people can drown their sorrows."

Paris

Parisians are blasé about rugby. Football matters more. But at least one family will be torn down the middle by Saturday's World Cup semi-final match.

The Prime Minister, François Fillon, is married to a Welsh woman, Penelope Fillon née Clarke, born in Abergavenny.

Both are fervent rugby fans, but such are the demands of national office that they will not be able to share the experience.

Mr Fillon's spokeswoman, Myriam Levy, told i: "Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they will not be able to watch the match together.

"The Prime Minister has an engagement in his constituency near Le Mans. I'm not sure about Penelope, but I imagine she will watch at home in Paris."

The true rugby heartland of France is the centre and south and especially the south-west. In Toulouse and Perpignan, Toulon and Agen, excitement is running high.

In Paris, it is merely strolling. Le Monde had a long article about how Wales was behind "L'Equipe du poireau" (the team of the leek). Feelings in Paris were more relaxed.

Frederic Gin, 28, a sports shop assistant, said: "I am very into sport, but rugby is not as important to me as football or other sporting events like the Tour de France or swimming.

"They really create a dialogue with the French people. All the same, I hope France win."

Jean-Marie Lordey, 26, said: "Rugby is never as important to the French as football, but I think this match could be very important for the country's morale... I think the outlook is weighted towards us rather than Wales. I am hopeful for a French win."

One person who normally speaks for France, but admitted to being "pulled two ways" by Saturday's match was Benoit Cormier, a French diplomat. He is assistant spokesman for the French foreign ministry, but spent two years as a student in Cardiff.

"I learned to love Wales and to understand how much rugby means to the Welsh," he said yesterday.

"I will be truly divided on Saturday. Of course, I want France to win, but if Wales do go through to the final, I will be very happy."

Comments