Wallabies…then the world

Australia attack coach Scott Johnson believes Wales can win the World Cup title in France next year.

Johnson was an assistant coach to Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Mike Ruddock during a five-year stint with the Dragons. He was also on the management team that saw Wales claim the Grand Slam in 2005.

Johnson said the return of key players means the side is brimful of talented players who were capable of triumphing at the showpiece tournament in France.

“The heavyweights are back and their side for Saturday is close to the Grand Slam team. They are genuine World Cup contenders,” Johnson told the BBC. “You only have to look at the strength in depth of the squad. They have selection issues, that’s a good thing.

“Tom Shanklin adds impetus. He was missed last year, Tom is a world-class player and it is good to see him come back from a career-threatening injury.

“Ryan Jones burst onto the scene in the Grand Slam, went on the Lions tour and was probably the form number eight in the world at the time,” he added.

“To have him back adds a different look to the side and it probably helps make them very competitive against all nations.”

During his tenure with Wales he forged a special bond with the players and conceded that he felt “odd” returning to plot their demise. He left to join Australia in March this year, following a three-match stint as Wales caretaker coach in the 2006 Six Nations.

“This group of Welsh players are are special,” he said. “I think Gareth Thomas epitomises everything in Wales that I love.

“He is a kid that had a second chance and I saw him represent himself and his country so well in that time.”

Thomas will make a return to Test rugby after nine months out of the game and has subsequently lost the captaincy to flyhalf Stephen Jones, a player Johnson admired greatly.

“Stephen is an upbeat kid,” he said. “His Welshness is a great thing but he is worldly enough to accept the difference of others.

“He is an energiser and that adds to the squad. You always want a captain that represents what your team is. Stephen is a perfect example of that.”