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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK

Sport: Rugby Union

Wales hope for Millennium lift

Howley (second left) and his team-mates have watched the stadium develop

The critics may have doubted it, but the Millennium Stadium is ready to stage its first match.

Cardiff's £121m ground, which will be the centrepiece of the Rugby World Cup later this year, will be unveiled on Saturday when Wales take on reigning world champions South Africa.

Construction workers have been on site around the clock to ensure that the stadium, which has replaced the famous Arms Park as Wales' home ground, would be ready in time.

But the building work is not yet complete.

[ image: Food for thought: Graham Henry is under no illusions ahead of the Test]
Food for thought: Graham Henry is under no illusions ahead of the Test
So far only 27,168 spectators will be able to watch the match - compared to the 72,500 fans who will pack the stadium at the start of the World Cup in October.

Wales coach Graham Henry believes that when it is at capacity the Millennium Stadium will give his side a massive lift.

But he is not confident that his weary side can lift themselves to cause the South Africans major problems at the end of a lengthy season.

"I think once the stadium is full, and everybody's singing and doing their Welsh thing, which is remarkable, it will be worth seven points," Henry said.

"But there won't be that many there tomorrow and the crowd won't be as significant as it will be on October 1. It's going to be the best rugby stadium in the world but it will have to be worth 50 points tomorrow!

"We're getting better but the enthusiasm and excitement is something we've got to dig for because the guys have been at the office for 10 months.

"The boys need a big rest, they need to lie on the beach and recuperate. I think our chances are very remote. We did well against South Africa last time but they were jaded and we were fresh."

Individual flair

[ image: Rob Howley is Wales inspiration at scrum-half]
Rob Howley is Wales inspiration at scrum-half
Despite Henry's pessimism, Wales are the most improved side in world rugby - as their stunning victories over France and England in the Five Nations proved.

In Neil Jenkins they boast the best goalkicker in the international game, who is also now a much-improved running fly-half.

And with players of the quality of centre Allan Bateman, fullback Shane Howarth and forwards Craig and Scott Quinnell and Colin Charvis, they can at last compete with the best the southern hemisphere has to offer.

British Lions centre Scott Gibbs may be missing, but scrum-half Rob Howley is arguably the finest No.9 in the world and the captain will be looking to exploit the absence of Joost Van Der Westhuizen from the South African side.

Teichmann returns

But the visitors showed in the thundering two-Test humbling of Italy they are back at the top of their game, having recuperated from their record-equalling winning run of 1998 by taking a long-break from international fixtures.

[ image: South Africa are boosted by the return of captain Gary Teichmann]
South Africa are boosted by the return of captain Gary Teichmann
Howley's opposite number Gary Teichmann returns at No.8 on Saturday, after missing the 101-0 rout of Italy last week with a knee injury.

Coach Nick Mallett has made seven changes from the side that started the one-sided game in Durban.

Western Stormers fly-half Braam Van Straaten gets the vote over Gaffie Du Toit, who he replaced on Saturday. It will be his first start in a Springbok jersey.

Amongst the other changes are Pieter Muller at centre and Werner Swanepoel at scrum-half, while second row Krynauw Otto comes in to the pack.

Teams for Cardiff:

Wales: S Howarth (Sale); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), A Bateman (Northampton), D James (Pontypridd); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, captain), P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), B Sinkinson (Neath), S Quinnell (Llanelli).

Replacements: L Davies (Cardif), S Jones (Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), M Voyle (Llanelli), B Evans (Swansea), A Lewis (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff).

South Africa: P Montgomery (Western Province), S Terblanche (Natal Sharks), P Muller (Natal Sharks), J Mulder (Lions), P Rossow (Western Province), B Van Straaten (Western Province), W Swanepoel (Western Province); R Kempson (Western Province), N Drotske (Free State Cheetahs), C Visagie (Western Province), S Boome (Western Province), K Otto (Blue Bulls), C Krige (Western Province), R Erasmus (Lions), G Teichmann (Natal Sharks, captain)

Replacements: B Paulse (Western Province), G Du Toit (Griquas) D Von Hoesslin (Griquas), A Vos (Lions), A Venter (Free State Cheetahs), O Le Roux (Natal Sharks), C Marais (Western Province).

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