Rugby Union: Wales open for business: World Cup match with Italy lacks support

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The Independent Online
SUCH is Welsh anxiety over tomorrow's World Cup match against Italy in Cardiff that yesterday they set about trying to drum up more than the present lukewarm public interest.

For a match that has been touted as of critical importance even though both protagonists have already qualified for next year's tournament in South Africa, ticket sales so far amounting to 20,000 of the Arms Park's 53,000 capacity are disappointingly modest. Yesterday's projection of an attendance of 35,000-40,000 may well be over-optimistic.

'This is another vital game for us and we really do want to go into the tournament as the top seeds from Europe,' Gareth Llewellyn, standing in for the injured Ieuan Evans as Wales captain, said. 'It's important to have good vocal support and I'm sure there will a big crowd to see us go for a third successive home win this year.'

But even if they win, Wales can hardly class themselves as the 'top seeds' from Europe, since England, Scotland, Ireland and France all qualified directly from the quarter-finals of the 1991 World Cup.

The overriding importance of tomorrow's match was imagined to be because the winners would be placed with Ireland and an Asian qualifier as well as New Zealand - though the idea that this is potentially a softer option than going in with England, Western Samoa and Argentina is considered rather insulting on the Emerald Isle.

But we have since been told that the prospective opposition had nothing to do with it, not once Romania were condemned to the 'Group of Death' with Australia, South Africa and Canada, anyway. No, what Wales desire is to play from the start at altitude and - providing progress is made - come down from the hills for the knock-out stage.

England, the 1991 finalists, yesterday began a train of events they intend will keep them as serious contenders in future World Cups. Don Rutherford, the Rugby Football Union's technical director, announced that a national development officer would be appointed this season responsible for turning players' potential into international achievement.