Ben Cohen says Martin Johnson's England can be World Cup winners

Ben Cohen, a member of England's winning team in 2003, believes Martin Johnson's squad can win the 2011 World Cup, despite their disappointing showing last weekend against Wales.

Ben Cohen says Martin Johnson's England can be World Cup winners Echoing the optimism of his team manager, Cohen said that, notwithstanding Saturday's 19-9 defeat at the Millennium Stadium, England could still beat the best in New Zealand.

"England have got the ability to go out and win the World Cup," said the wing, who won 57 caps before retiring this year. "They have got the players, they just need the game plan. They did blow some opportunities [against Wales]. I think [the Bath wing Matt] Banahan has probably played himself out of the World Cup squad. They didn't have enough numbers to rucks, they lost a lot of ball going forward. But I don't think the situation is as bad as some people are saying it is. That's what warm-up games are for, to try different formations."

Cohen said Johnson was still trying to find his best combinations before England's final warm-up match, in Dublin on 27 August. The squad will fly to New Zealand two days later.

"The balance England had in 2003 was in the fact they had power runners, people who could really take the line on," Cohen said. "At the moment they're trying to get that balance but they're not really gelling."

Cohen was speaking in support of a Rugby Football Union campaign, backed by O2, to drive grass-roots participation. The Choose Rugby scheme, which was launched in June, aims to promote forms of the game including touch, tag and sevens rugby, and to build better links between clubs, schools and the community.

In May the RFU was docked £1m in Sport England funding after it failed to arrest a decline in the number of adults playing the game. The governing body vowed to implement a new strategy and to reverse the trend.

"There has to be some action taken and they are doing it," Cohen said. "[Choose Rugby] highlights the fact it's not just a contact sport, it can be played non-contact and it's a great way of getting fit and getting involved in the social side of things. It's making people aware that there's more to rugby than a full-on car crash every week."

Cohen called on players to realise the importance of their role in growing the sport's appeal, pointing to his experiences at Northampton and Sale.

"When you're in the middle of your own career, you want to be on the pitch as much as possible, training as much as possible," he said. "It's hard to go and do some community work. But you don't realise until later on in your professional life how important that is and the power of that. The role of a sportsman is huge these days, you have to be a role model."

Cohen retired in order to concentrate full time on his StandUp foundation, which focuses on eradicating bullying, with a particular focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"Being a straight sportsman I was able to bridge that gap from the gay community and the straight community," he said. "We're not about gay rights, we're about stopping bullying across the board wherever it occurs. I hate bullying and being in a position to do something about it is a privilege."

Following a trip to the United States last spring, Cohen is planning to launch StandUp as a global brand.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Owen Gibson, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 18th August 2011 00.24 Europe/London

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