A £26m cost overrun, a redesign and a row have wreaked havoc at the flagship venue for the Rugby World Cup. But they are all behind it now – just two weeks before the first match.
Last Christmas, the complex construction project to redevelop the Cardiff Arms Park was in chaos. A last-minute redesign meant main contractor Laing was lumbered with a £26m loss on the project that was originally costed at £99m under a guaranteed maximum price contract. Laing chairman David Blair and managing director of civil engineering and project boss Tony Evans were made scapegoats. Blair, then just 54, retired, and Welsh rugby fan Evans left to pursue other interests.

At that point, nine months before the stadium was due to host the inaugural match of the Rugby World Cup, its prospects of being finished in time did not look good. Rumourmongers even suggested that the tournament might be moved to France, with Paris' Stade de France, developed for the 1998 football World Cup, as the flagship venue. But, against the odds, at 3pm on Friday 1 October, the 1999 Rugby World Cup will kick off in the £125m Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Wales will play Argentina and Laing will have gone a long way to recouping the credibility it lost when the problems emerged.

It will be a close-run thing. Engineers are due to test the retractable roof for the first time this week, leaving little time to iron out any teething problems. But confidence is high; project sources say they will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure the roof – which provided the wow factor that persuaded the Millennium Commission to fund the project – can close on 1 October if needs be. There is also the small matter of tensioning the roof's cable ties and fitting out the corporate boxes. "The snagging will be done later," says one project source.

So, how did Laing bring the project in on time when it faced such massive problems? "It's thrown money at the project," says one project worker. "Eighty-hour weeks have been the norm," he adds.

There has also been some smart thinking. For instance, the removable pitch, made up of 7400 pallets of grass, has been used to great advantage. Laing has been able to lay the turf for the three warm-up matches held at the stadium and then remove it afterwards. This meant that the hardstanding below the pitch could be used for cranes and other plant.

Although the new stadium design has lost some of its glazing in favour of industrial cladding panels in blue and red, the structure sets a new standard in UK, if not world, stadia design. The retractable roof is an impressive feat of engineering and the walkway around the stadium softens the industrial feel.

Cardiff Millennium Stadium