It’s nine in a row for the as­sas­sins and with Eng­land next up in Cardiff!

The Rugby Paper - - Autumn Internationals - From PETER JACK­SON at The Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium

THE ‘silent as­sas­sins’ picked the Spring­boks off last night in de­fence of their Cardiff citadel, their marks­man­ship turn­ing the last Test of the year into an his­toric oc­ca­sion.

At long last Wales had com­pleted their first Au­tumn Slam, the most mean­ing­ful of four suc­ces­sive weeks in four weeks re­mind­ing the rest that the of­fi­cial No. 3 po­si­tion in the global rank­ings is theirs by right.

Reaf­fir­ma­tion of their rar­efied sta­tus as the next best team be­hind the All Blacks and the All Greens also re­in­forced the ac­cu­racy of Rassie Eras­mus’ pre-match de­scrip­tion of Wales as a team go­ing qui­etly about their busi­ness with all the ruth­less stealth of Al Pa­cino in The God­fa­ther.

No­body em­bod­ied the qual­ity in more strik­ing fash­ion than El­lis Jenk­ins, plucked from the sup­port­ing cast at the last-minute to play the game of his life. A per­for­mance that in­cluded a great deal more than mak­ing one try and sav­ing an­other against all odds will not have sur­prised his le­gions of fans.

What a shame that his night of nights should end in ev­ery­one’s man-of-the­match be­ing car­ried off on a stretcher wear­ing an oxy­gen mask. If the knee dam­age proves as se­ri­ous as the Wales man­age­ment fear, Jenk­ins will be re­signed to sit­ting out the Six Na­tions.

All the plau­dits rightly show­ered on Ire­land ought not to shroud the prospect of the Six Na­tions pro­vid­ing more than one se­ri­ous con­tender in Ja­pan next year.

A grip­ping Test match ended with Wales go­ing away in rac­ing par­lance, not just at the ex­pense of any old op­po­nent but one con­tain­ing 11 of the start­ing line-up for the Boks’ star­tling win in Welling­ton two months ago.

Not since the golden days of the Seven­ties can Wales have con­fronted South Africa for­ti­fied by im­pos­ing pil­lars of col­lec­tive self­be­lief. As a sign of how times have changed, they were not afraid to ar­tic­u­late their sense of ex­pec­ta­tion at ris­ing to a fix­ture which used to be a rou­tine away win.

With a rous­ing dis­re­gard for tempt­ing fate, War­ren Gat­land spoke about Wales ‘be­ing in a re­ally good place’. Maybe so but the way the Boks started, bristling with in­tent, would have had him squirm­ing on his lofty perch.

Ch­es­lin Kolbe, pro­moted from the bench as a late re­place­ment for Sbu Nkosi, left a trail of wreck­age from his first two runs but Wales some­how sur­vived the ex­pe­ri­ence by the skin of their teeth. The Toulouse wing left both cen­tres floun­der­ing in his wake in threat­en­ing to dance his way through the en­tire back divi­sion.

When the Boks did out­flank Wales on the op­po­site wing, Pi­eter-Steph du Toit touched down in the cor­ner but not be­fore graz­ing the touch­line on his way. No­body would have been more re­lieved at the luck­i­est of es­capes than Ge­orge North and Liam Wil­liams.

Un­daunted, the Boks en­gi­neered an­other dan­ger­ous re­sponse only for Wales to be re­prieved again, this time by ref­eree Luke Pearce’s mar­ginal de­ci­sion in call­ing Pol­lard’s flat pass to a fly­ing Aphiwe Dyan­tyi for­ward.

As soon as Wales even­tu­ally found a bit of ball to play with, they wasted no time in teach­ing the Boks a painful les­son in how to rat­tle the score­board. Within the space of six min­utes they had given it the mighty shake that comes from two con­verted tries, one from an un­likely source, the other from a fa­mil­iar one.

The man who nursed his team through their ap­pre­hen­sive start was not sup­posed to have been on the field, at least not from the start. Jenk­ins an­nounced his pres­ence by blast­ing the Boks’ de­fen­sive door clean off its hinges.

He dum­mied his way to within ten me­tres of the posts, re­sisted all temp­ta­tion to go for glory and drew the last man, Wil­lie Le Roux, in text­book fash­ion to pro­vide a self­less in­side pass for some­one else to fin­ish it off. The ben­e­fi­ciary turned out to be To­mas Fran­cis, a tight­head not noted for his fin­ish­ing, let alone be­tween the posts.

One of Ex­eter’s clutch of Test props, Fran­cis was never go­ing to miss, not from a max­i­mum of range of five me­tres which gave the de­spair­ing Pol­lard no hope of res­cu­ing a lost cause.

The Boks were still try­ing to come to terms with the shock when An­scombe en­gi­neered the fleet­ing prospect of an­other mem­ber of the Front Row Union fol­low­ing suit. Ken Owens’ stam­ped­ing run may have come up short but it amounted to a clear warn­ing about what was to come.

With their op­po­nents ma­rooned un­der mount­ing pres­sure, An­scombe’s im­pe­ri­ous pass over North’s head found full-back Liam Wil­liams in enough space to fin­ish it off in some style all by him­self. Pol­lard, left high and dry as the last de­fender, again found him­self cast in the role as the boy on the burn­ing deck.

South Africa’s ha­rassed fly-half re­sponded to the dou­ble hit with a long-range penalty. An­scombe’s miss from much closer ten min­utes be­fore the break proved the pre­lude to a pe­riod when Wales re­verted to rid­ing their luck.

Em­brose Pa­pier shred­ded the blind­side de­fence and made a hope­less sit­u­a­tion all the more so for Wales with a per­fectly weighted grub­ber. The novice scrum-half then stooped to ruin his own mas­ter­piece with a knockon.

That a be­sieged Wales some­how man­aged to pro­tect their 11-point lead un­til half-time owed ev­ery­thing to Jenk­ins’ pow­ers of re­sis­tance. How the Blues’ flanker got a hand un­der­neath Jesse Kriel to deny

the Boks’ cen­tre a try only he knows.

The TMO, Si­mon McDow­ell, ruled that Kriel had not grounded the ball, a ver­dict that could eas­ily have gone the other way. Kriel was not to be de­nied, the sharpest of fin­ishes prompt­ing a tsunami of ner­vous anx­i­ety to sweep through the ser­ried ranks of the Red Dragon broth­er­hood.

Like a mata­dor go­ing for the kill, the Boks went for a ten-man line-out and still failed to put Wales away. A de­lib­er­ate col­laps­ing of the maul brought them an­other penalty and a swift re­buke from Pearce af­ter Kriel bel­lowed in his ear for a yel­low card.Had Wales been given one, they could not have com­plained. In­stead Pearce rightly ad­mon­ished Kriel for his cheek “I don’t need you telling me it’s a yel­low. Any more and you might end up get­ting one your­self.’’

El­ton Jan­tjies’ penalty go­ing into the last quar­ter cut the deficit to three be­fore Dan Big­gar fol­lowed him off the bench to nail the de­ci­sive blows from two late penal­ties. That the first ought to have gone the other way will not have di­luted Welsh cel­e­bra­tions, nine on the bounce with Eng­land and Ire­land next up in Cardiff in the Six Na­tions.

Bring them on….

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Livewire: Liam Wil­liams dives in for Wales’ sec­ond try

Sharp fin­ish: Jesse Kriel scores South Africa’s first try

Prop idol: To­mas Fran­cis runs in to score

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