Cardiff & Paris: A tale of two rugby cities
Tomorrow morning all eyes will be on New Zealand as Wales face France for a place in the Rugby World Cup final. But what's happening at home?
Rob Hastings is Assistant News Editor at The Independent. He has served on the news desk since 2010. While working as a freelance reporter and feature writer he was also published by The Guardian, The Times and the Financial Times.
Friday 14 October 2011
Rob Hastings: Cardiff
It's been declared Wear Red For Wales Day in workplaces across Cardiff today, though the unwavering optimism in the Welsh capital means they need little encouragement to wish pob lwc 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 Millenium 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 Millenium 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 soughtafter tickets 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."
Yet with the match bringing swarms of Wales fans into the capital, Ed Townsend from the city's tourist board isn't convinced they'll miss the opportunity to get some Brains ale in. "If you're coming down from the valleys, what are you going to do? Personally, I would have a few," he said. "I've never known anything quite like this. We're stupid about anything to do with the Welsh rugby team in Cardiff anyway, but this is special."
The group chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, Roger Lewis, is impressed. "We always believed we had the best fans in the world. Our players... will be able to visualise packed rugby clubs, families around television screens and, of course, a huge crowd at the stadium."
By John Lichfield and Eleanor Stanford: Paris
Parisians are blasé about rugby. Football matters more. But at least one family in Paris will be torn down the middle by tomorrow's France-Wales match.
The Prime Minister, François Fillon is married to a Welsh woman, Penelope Fillon née Clarke, born in Abergavenny 55 years ago. Both are fervent rugby fans. They have watched France-Wales games together at the Stade de France and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in the past. Where will they be at 10am Paris time tomorrow?
Mr Fillon's spokeswoman, Myriam Levy, told The Independent: "Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they will not be able to watch together. The Prime Minister has an engagement in the Sarthe [his constituency near Le Mans]. I'm not sure about Penelope Fillon, but I imagine she will watch at home."
A tour of the streets, bars and British pubs of Paris yesterday found limited fervour ahead of the match. The true rugby heartland of France is the centre and south, especially the south west. In Toulouse and Perpignan, Toulon and Agen, excitement is running high. In Paris, it is merely strolling. Le Monde reported how the "whole of 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: "Rugby is not as important to me as football or other 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 as football but this could be very important for our morale."
One person being "pulled two ways" was Benoît Cormier, a French diplomat. The assistant spokesman for the French foreign ministry spent two separate years as a student in Cardiff. "I learned to love Wales and to understand how much rugby means to the Welsh," he said. "I want France to win, but if Wales go through, I'll be very happy."
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