Rugby World Cup 2011: Wales are 'strongest' European World Cup hope

George North and Ryan Bevington celebrate Wales' 81-7 win over Namibia
George North and Ryan Bevington celebrate Wales' 81-7 win over Namibia

Kingsley Jones believes Wales are the best northern hemisphere side at the World Cup and feels this year is their best chance to reach the final.

Wales, who face Fiji in their final Pool D clash on Sunday, are likely to meet Six Nations rivals Ireland in the quarter-finals on 8 October.

The winners of that match are then expected to face either Argentina, England or Scotland in the semi-finals.

"This is the best Wales team for a long time, maybe 25 years," said Jones.

Wales' third place finish at the 1987 Rugby World Cup - beating Australia in the third/fourth place play-off - is their tournament best.

They have qualified only twice for the knock-out stages since that inaugural competition.

But former Wales captain Jones, who is coaching Russia at the 2011 World Cup, feels that the tournament in New Zealand is the "best opportunity" the Welsh will have to shine at rugby's showpiece.

Wales won Six Nations Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008 but Jones feels Warren Gatland's 2011 squad are the finest for a generation.

"I really believe that Wales are the best northern hemisphere team down here," said the former Wales flanker, speaking from Russia team base in New Zealand.

"And obviously it is an opportunity for Wales to prove that against Ireland."

Jones knows Wales' probable quarter-final rivals very well as his Russia side lost 62-12 to Ireland in Pool C on Sunday.

Wales and Ireland, three of the last four Six Nations Grand Slam winners, have played each other twice in World Cup games.

The Welsh won 13-6 in the 1987 Rugby World Cup in Wellington - where the Celtic rivals are set to meet on 8 October - while Ireland were 24-23 victors in the 1995 World Cup to qualify for the knockout stages.

But Jones feels Gatland's decision to play young players such as Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and George North has given Wales an extra dimension over an ageing Irish side.

"I think Gatland deserves a lot of credit for going with young players," Jones told BBC Wales' Scrum V show

"And the young players have stepped up.

"I think it is a very strong squad and let's hope we don't blow it now."


Forwards: (16)

Props: Ryan Bevington, Adam Jones, Paul James (all Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Exeter), Hookers: Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Ken Owens (Scarlets). Locks: Luke Charteris (Dragons), Bradley Davies (Blues), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys). Back-rows: Toby Faletau (Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Danny Lydiate (Dragons), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks), Sam Warburton (Blues, capt).

Backs: (14)

Full-backs/wings: Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne), Aled Brew (Dragons), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Shane Williams (Ospreys). Centres: Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets). Fly-halves: James Hook (Perpignan), Stephen Jones, Rhys Priestland (both Scarlets), Scrum-halves: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Michael Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues).