The sky's the limit for devoted Welsh rugby fan

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THE excitement and expectation have begun to get too much for the Welsh. Big leeks and red jerseys are fair enough as the national rugby team faces the prospect of its first Grand Slam victory for 16 years at Twickenham today.

But even by Welsh standards of devotion, Steve Spiller, 34, from the Rhondda Valley, took his enthusiasm to spectacular lengths yesterday by raising the cash for black market tickets by stripping his roof and selling the slates.

At stake was the prospect of being witness to the collective exorcism of the ghosts of recent defeats by such well-known rugby nations as Western Samoa and Canada in a splendid Celtic victory over the arrogant English.

In the time-honoured traditions of rugby chauvinism, Mr Spiller, unemployed, did not bother to consult his wife, Debbie, before taking off the slates and nailing a layer of felt on as weather protection for his house in Pontygwaith.

And in the true custom of female forbearance of men's obsessions, Mrs Spiller forgave him. 'He was determined to go, so I have to forgive him. I just hope we can get another roof as quickly as possible afterwards,' she said.

The sale raised about pounds 200 towards the tickets, the best of which are selling at pounds 1,000 a pair.

The trip to Twickenham began yesterday in Mr Spiller's battered Ford Escort, which was also to be his resting point overnight, before he tours the touts for a ticket.

'It was a desperate situation which called for desperate measures,' he said. 'The black market prices are crazy, but I have to be there. I may be outside the ground, but Twickenham is the place every Welshman should be.

'People are saying that I could watch the match on the telly at home, but it just wouldn't be the same. If I'm really careful with the pennies, I should be able to buy a new roof in a couple of months.'

Five Nations preview, pages 52, 53