Wales to move out when the builders move in

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The Independent Online
Wales may have to spend the 1997/98 season playing their internationals in England now that the Millennium Commission has accepted the Welsh Rugby Union's plans for British sport's only retractable-roof superdome at Cardiff Arms Park, writes Steve Bale.

Yesterday the commission announced a National Lottery grant of pounds 46m to which the WRU, supported by South Glamorgan County Council, will add pounds 60m to rebuild the ground ready for the 1999 World Cup. Barclays Bank has guaranteed the union's share.

Although there is no absolute necessity that Wales temporarily move out, alternative venues are already being considered, including Wembley, Old Trafford, Villa Park and even Twickenham. There is no alternative venue anywhere near the requisite standard in Wales itself.

"The contractors have assured us that we will be able to play all our matches at the stadium during the rebuilding programme," Vernon Pugh, the WRU chairman, said last night. "We will have to assess the situation as it develops and perhaps we might consider shutting down the ground for a year and playing our matches at other venues."

This would enable the work to proceed unimpeded as well as avoiding having to play in a semi-vacuum - as happened when the last Arms Park reconstruction began in 1969. (It is only 12 years since that development was completed.)

The WRU may alternatively consider petitioning the Five Nations' committee to allow Wales to play all four of their 1998 championship matches away from home - which would mean reversing the fixtures against France and Scotland - and then having all four at home the following year.

The pitch at the new ground will be turned round 90 degrees so as to run parallel to the nearby River Taff, with space being created by the purchase and demolition of adjacent buildings including the Empire Pool, which was built for the 1958 Commonwealth Games. The original intention to do the same to the Cardiff RFC ground next door and relocate the club to Cardiff Bay is no longer necessary.