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Saturday, October 15, 2011

We're all Welsh for one day: England rugby fans root for the reds in World Cup semi (well, they are playing the French)

Sales of Wales shirts soar as crushed England fans rush to back their closest neighbours

By Emma Reynolds

Rugby followers will be draping themselves in dragons and brushing up on 'Bread of Heaven' as they cheer on Wales in the Rugby World Cup semi-final.

With every other British country out of the competition, many fans will be cheering on the boys in red, who represent the Home Nations' last hope of glory.

While England's players have made the headlines for all the wrong reasons throughout the tournament, those wearing the red of Wales have won over fans from all nations by showing them how it's done - both on and off the pitch.

The Welsh players salute their fans after their quarter-final win against Ireland last Saturday

Britain's last hope: Wales players training today ahead of the semi-final clash with France tomorrow

And the fact that Wales are playing their old foe France makes it that little bit easier for many to make a temporary switch of allegiance.

Disenchanted England fans are showing their appreciation by apparently rushing out to buy Wales shirts in the hope of cheering them on to the final.

Even hardcore fans who had travelled to New Zealand to watch the tournament raced to buy the Wales kit.

Celebrity fans: Katherine Jenkins, left, and Charlotte Church, right, will be cheering on their countrymen in the World Cup semi-final this morning

Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins donned the famous red strip to show her support for the boys Down Under as she launched her new CD at the Oxford Street HMV store in London yesterday.

Online retailer Littlewoods.com found sales of the red shirts had more than doubled in England - rising by 112 per cent.

Littlewoods brand director Gary Kibble said: 'We tend to deliver very few shirts to addresses outside the respective country.

'However, there's been a real trend this week for Welsh shirts going to English addresses.

'This is the perfect example of British pride.

'The Welsh squad have been outstanding on the pitch and true professionals away from it.'

Many Welsh businesses were also cashing in on the excitement.

Cardiff-based brewery SA Brains said sales in its pubs were up 8 per cent compared with this time last year and there had been a rise in demand for its ales in supermarkets.

Grudge match: England fans will be digging out their green and red face paint to join fans like these in cheering on Wales against France tomorrow

Down and out: England's team gave the fans little to cheer about during the World Cup

The owner of Swansea-based flag makers MrFlag.com, Charles Ashburner, was in a buoyant mood ahead of the match.

He said: 'There has been a sharp increase in demand for Welsh flags, particularly over the past few days in the run-up to the semi-final.

'We have even had a few enquiries from people about custom-made Rugby World Cup Final flags, because they are confident Wales can go all the way.

'We perhaps would have done more business had England stayed in the competition, but that's perhaps a price worth paying if it means Wales will get to the final.'

Welsh singers Katherine Jenkins and Charlotte Church will be hoping they have plenty to cheer when they watch tomorrow's semi-final

All eyes are now on the Welsh after a humiliated England were annihilated by France in the quarter-finals.

The embattled English side made the headlines at the World Cup for all the wrong reasons, after captain Mike Tindall was filmed embracing a mystery blonde - just months after his marriage to the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips.

And there was more shame when his Samoan-born team-mate Manu Tuilagi was caught and fined by police for jumping from the deck of a ferry soon after his team's appalling defeat.

Two more players from Martin Johnson's England side were suspended for dangerous play, two coaches suspended for ball-switching against Romania and three players fined for wearing a gumshield with unauthorised advertising.

England fans will be hoping Wales can raise their spirits and avenge their hour-long, 19-12 defeat by the French at Eden Park in Auckland.

Assistant coach for Wales Shaun Edwards said: 'It has not been an accident. It is down to hard work, strength of character, no little skill and obviously a lot on the training paddock, in the gym and on the running track.'

The country, which has a population of just three million, is known for its talent in rugby union.

The French have lost twice in the tournament, to New Zealand and - more embarrassingly - Tonga, but they were too tough for England last weekend.

But tomorrow's game has been billed as the biggest in many years for Welsh rugby, as it is only the second time the national side has reached the semi-finals of the competition.

United Kingdom: Wales fans who celebrated the quarter-final win in New Zealand will be joined by English pals tomorrow

If Wales manage to overturn France, it will be the first time they have reached the tournament's final.

The excitement has reached fever-pitch across the principality, with rugby clubs and bars stocking up on supplies, which kicks off tomorrow at 9am BST.

More than 60,000 are expected in the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital to watch the game on a giant screen.

Wales captain Sam Warburton said the players in New Zealand were amazed at the support back home.

He said: 'We are delighted with the level of support we keep hearing about from Wales.

'It is amazing to think the Millennium Stadium will be so crowded for a game we are playing thousands of miles away.'

Many workplaces in Wales have allowed members of staff to wear Welsh rugby jerseys today and the Welsh Assembly has changed the flags outside its Ty Hywel offices so only national ones are flying.

Hundreds in Swansea are also expected to gather in the city's Castle Square, to watch the game live on a TV screen.

The city's Lord Mayor Ioan Richard said the success of the national rugby and football teams has lifted the mood of Swansea and Wales.

'It's no stretch to say this is one of the greatest sporting weeks ever for Wales,' he added.

Famous names have sent good luck messages to Warren Gatland's side - including First Minister Carwyn Jones, Swansea City FC boss Brendan Rogers and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Early exit: Mike Tindall and Manu Tuilagi were two of the players who came in for heavy criticism for their off-the-pitch antics during the tournament



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