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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 09:54 GMT
Thomas tipped for Lions future

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Brisbane

A week ago, Jonathan Thomas was one of Welsh rugby's best-kept secrets.

But after a barnstorming display against the All Blacks, the back-row tyro has alerted the wider world to his blossoming talent.

Only 20, Thomas was compared with Lawrence Dallaglio this week by veteran Wales lock Gareth Llewellyn.

Jonathan Thomas tries to force himself past New Zealander's defenders in their last game
Thomas has won plaudits in all corners of the game

And as the pacey flanker prepares to face the England colossus in Sunday's World Cup quarter-final, he is also being tipped as a British Lion-in-waiting.

Some rap, as they say down under.

Llewellyn offered this verdict on his Ospreys team-mate: "He is a fantastic athlete and there is a lot of Lawrence Dallaglio about him.

"He is still a young man who has got to develop physically, but he has got all the raw materials."

At 6 ft 5 in, Thomas offers an assured line-out option in addition to his speed around the park and improved defence.

His potential was evident early on to Paul Healy, the Australian coach who alongside John Connolly gave Thomas his start in a struggling Swansea side.

Healy, who worked with the Uruguay squad during this World Cup, believes his former pupil is heading for the very top.

"If he keeps developing at the rate he has, I can't see why he shouldn't be a British Lion," Healy told this website.

THOMAS FACTFILE
Born: 27/12/82
Position: Number eight/flanker
Club: Ospreys
Tests: Six
Test debut: 14/6/03 v Australia

"He was outstanding against New Zealand and, if he keeps his focus, who knows what he can do? He deserves everything he gets.

"Jonathan works very hard and was always asking questions at Swansea. He is very focused on what he wants and what he has to do to get there. He is a terrific prospect."

Thomas will win only his seventh cap against England, after entering the Test arena this summer against Australia and New Zealand.

His second meeting with the All Blacks last Sunday, when his athletic charges repeatedly put Wales on the front foot, certainly earned him respect.

New Zealand captain Reuben Thorne was happy to swap jerseys with the youngster after Wales' stirring display in Sydney.

"The All Blacks don't always do that, so for Thorne to do it shows what they thought of him," Healy added.

Whatever happens against England on Sunday, Healy believes Thomas could be leading a Welsh renaissance over the coming years.

The loose forward was made Swansea captain for several games when barely out of his teens, despite the presence of old hands like former Wales and Lions centre Scott Gibbs.

"We thought he had leadership qualities in him even as a youngster," Healy added. "He is part of a new breed of young guys coming through the Welsh system.

"If their rugby develops as it should do with the provincial set-up over the next few years, I don't see why Wales can't be a force at the next World Cup."





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