The state of Gareth Thomas's mind has caused a degree of angst since his infamous television rant in the wake of the Mike Ruddock affair last year. But as Thomas prepares to win his 100th cap today it is the state of his body which is the uppermost concern. A mere fortnight since the voluble, always demonstrative Wales captain suffered rib cartilage damage in a clattering tackle by Australia's Stirling Mortlock, he returns at full-back for the must-win final pool match here against Fiji.
Thomas would be the eighth man worldwide to become a Test centurion, so he is already in rare company. He did not appear for yesterday's "captain's run" media conference – the coach, Gareth Jenkins, said he had a cold or something similar – but his physical attributes will be more than handy as the Welsh face up to the dynamic Fijians, who rested their best players from last Sunday's 55-12 defeat by Australia.
The lighter-hitting Kevin Morgan does not even make it on to Wales' bench, which could lead to some interesting reshuffles – possibly with James Hook to full-back – if Thomas's battered bones do not last the course.
Jenkins yesterday answered each of the many questions regarding his own future with little variation on a theme that "this is a big game". The former Llanelli stalwart has lurched from one bad result to another with Wales with only occasional relief and, though he has a contract through to April 2008, he is rumoured to be a gnat's crotchet away from getting the chop.
"We'll be ready to go when the gun is cocked," Jenkins promised at the pretty-as-a-picture Stade de la Beaujoire, where Wales won their opening match against Canada, 42-17, before losing to Australia and thumping Japan in Cardiff. "On a personal level, this is where I want to be. These are exciting times, within touching distance of the quarter-finals."
While Jenkins's squad have been training on their return from Wales to their seaside base on the Atlantic, the Fijians have been in the centre of Nantes, focusing on their efforts to reach a first-ever quarter-final. Among the 11 recalled players is the Saracens full-back, Kameli Ratuvou, man of the match in the 35-31 win over Japan, which suggests the Welsh should prevail with plenty to spare.
"We're trying to relax and play our rugby, that's how we play our best," said Tom Shanklin, the midfield muscle alongside Stephen Jones and Hook. "Fiji have got a good back four, really, more than a back three, with a lot of pace out wide. We've had a great week and we come into this game really well prepared."
The thousands of red-jerseyed followers thronging the capital of Brittany will vest much hope in the only recently-formed dream team of Ian Evans and Alun-Wyn Jones; injuries and suspensions to Evans had delayed this long-touted second row partnership. Assuming all goes to Jenkins's plan, it might even give South Africa something to think about in Marseilles in the knock-out rounds.Reuse content