Passion, programmes and pints: Wales gears up for its grand day

Millennium Stadium, pubs and bars will all be packed today as Principality takes centre stage

As if Wales needed any more expectation heaped on their young shoulders, their First Minister delivered an impassioned call to arms, declaring this is not just a World Cup but a golden chance to improve the country's well-being.

As the anticipation built in the Welsh capital last night, as the pubs and clubs tried manfully to clear their premises before they began to refill again at 7.30am, Carwyn Jones outlined the riches on offer. "First and foremost I am a Wales rugby fan ... but this isn't just about sport," said the First Minister. "It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Wales on an international stage. It's giving us attention around the world that money just couldn't buy."

Money will, however, be able to buy an official match-day programme at the Millennium Stadium. The Welsh Rugby Union has been rightly praised for opening up the stadium for free, as well as putting on pre-match entertainment including the choir-cum-boy band Only Men Aloud.

The take-up has astounded officials, who are hoping the attendance will rival the 67,500 who will cram into Eden Park to watch Wales' first semi-final in 24 years. With the bars opening at 9am, the WRU has made the spectacle enticing – and even more so now the same programme as in Auckland can be purchased for posterity.

The WRU yesterday agreed a deal with the International Rugby Board to break with tradition and print and sell the match-day programme (for £7) 12,000 miles away. "We wanted to make the day as authentic as possible for fans, a lot of who couldn't get down to New Zealand," said Craig Maxwell, the WRU's head of marketing. "So we have decided to bring a key part of the match-day experience to the Millennium Stadium for the day."

Cardiff is not the only city pulling out the stops for the big occasion. In Swansea, a giant screen has been erected in Castle Square, while in the rugby hotbed of Llanelli the regional side are opening up their doors at "Parc Y Scarlets" for the entire day before their evening match against Leicester. If the world's eyes really are on Wales today they will not be disappointed by the passion.

Said the First Minister: "My message to the world is clear. Wales is a small country but can compete with the best. Our rugby team exhibit our chief virtues – thorough preparation, skill and competitiveness. Come and see for yourself. Wales is open for business." And indeed, for an early-morning pint.

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