Rugby World Cup: Millennium Stadium to show play-off

It was a morning of contrasting emotions, as Wales fans events unfold on the screens at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff
Image caption It was a morning of contrasting emotions, as Wales fans watched events unfold on the screens at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff

Cardiff's Millennium Stadium will open again on Friday morning for Wales fans to watch them play Australia in the Rugby World Cup third-place play-off.

More than 61,500 people packed the venue on Saturday morning to see Wales lose narrowly to France in the semi-final in New Zealand.

Despite the match result, stadium officials regard the free ticketed event as a success worth repeating.

A civic reception on the squad's return to Wales is also being planned.

Shared experience

Wales are in the play-off for third place on Friday at 08:30 BST after their narrow 9-8 defeat by France. They will meet Australia, who lost the other semi-final on Sunday to hosts and favourites New Zealand 20-6.

The Welsh Rugby Union has reacted to the sending-off of captain Sam Warburton, which many believe cost Wales the chance of making the final. Warburton has also been banned for three weeks, meaning he will miss the play-off.

Chief executive Roger Lewis said the WRU was disappointed with the suspension but "respects the process which has been followed and understands the disciplinary procedures in place".

Mr Lewis said: "The WRU further wishes to state its unequivocal support for Sam Warburton as a role model and exemplary captain who has led Wales to formidable success in the competition so far."

In a statement released by the WRU, Warburton said: "I am naturally disappointed with the outcome, but now my job is to focus entirely on supporting the boys in their preparations for Friday's match".

Image caption Many families made an early start to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Warburton had tweeted on Saturday: "Disappointing end result. Thanks for support back home and to those in the stadium, sure Delilah was sung more than once! Not over yet!!!!"

Fans snapped up free tickets to watch the Cardiff screening of Saturday's match in Auckland. The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) installed a giant 100 sq metre screen on the pitch, along with the stadium's two permanent large screens.

Initially, 25,000 tickets were released, but organisers released tens of thousands more when the huge demand became clear.

The attendance was given by the WRU as 61,543 - almost 3,000 more than watched the game itself at Eden Park.

Welcome home

Gerry Toms, the Millennium Stadium general manager, said: "It's our intention to open again.

"We are going to support the lads, so we will have another crowd here on Friday."

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the semi-final defeat was a brave display, and the team had "raised the nation's spirits to new levels with their performances".

Arrangements are being put in place for an official celebration to welcome the Wales squad home from New Zealand.

Cardiff council leader Rodney Berman revealed via Twitter that officers have been in discussion with the WRU and the Welsh government events team about the possibility of a homecoming event.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "We are currently considering the most appropriate way to recognise the great achievement of the Welsh rugby team at the World Cup."

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