It’s strongest Welsh squad I’ve ever seen

The Rugby Paper - - Autumn Internationals - SHANE WIL­LIAMS

IT’S THE end of Wales’ most suc­cess­ful Au­tumn ever. Now bring on the Six Na­tions! Wales must feel on top of the world af­ter their Novem­ber cam­paign and they have ev­ery right to cel­e­brate what has been a su­perb four weeks. They’ve made a real state­ment of in­tent.

To win four straight games this month – and beat Aus­tralia and South Africa along the way – is an achieve­ment that’s not to be sniffed at. And don’t for­get that this year we’ve won all five matches against Rugby Cham­pi­onships sides, been un­beaten at home and held the Wal­la­bies and Spring­boks to one try and a mere 17 points be­tween them this month.

In to­tal that’s now nine straight wins for War­ren Gat­land’s side and, once the dust set­tles, I’m sure the coaches will look back on this au­tumn with a huge amount of pride and en­joy­ment.

En­joy your glass of red tonight War­ren, you de­serve it!

I was al­ways pos­i­tive about Wales’ World Cup chances go­ing into this se­ries and that mood has only height­ened af­ter what I’ve seen this month. If we’ve been fly­ing un­der the radar thanks to the usual noise that sur­rounds Ed­die Jones and his Eng­land camp, and the su­perb dis­plays put up by the Ir­ish all year, then there will be a few peo­ple sit­ting up and tak­ing no­tice now.

Sport can be a cruel busi­ness, though, and I must ad­mit my de­light at watch­ing Wales’ fourth straight win over South Africa was tem­pered sig­nif­i­cantly by the sight of El­lis Jenk­ins be­ing taken from the field at the fi­nal whis­tle. That was gut-wrench­ing for me, es­pe­cially af­ter his per­for­mance.

For him to step in at the 11th hour for Dan Ly­di­ate and pro­duce that kind of ex­em­plary dis­play just shows what a huge tal­ent he is. You have to re­mem­ber, too, that although he started the game at blind­side flanker, he played most of the 80 min­utes at No.8 fol­low­ing Ross Mo­ri­arty’s early head in­jury.

That’s not an un­usual po­si­tion for El­lis, I know, but play­ing there at Test level is a dif­fer­ent beast. He ex­celled there and, when I heard War­ren con­firm his in­jury was a sus­pected an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment, I have to ad­mit my heart sank. What a blow that would be.

Time will tell for how long El­lis is ruled out, but I just hope his in­jury isn’t too se­ri­ous. I’ll have my fin­gers crossed for him and hope, like ev­ery­one else in Wales, we can see him back in ac­tion sooner rather than later. He was sim­ply sen­sa­tional against the Boks and was fully de­serv­ing of the man of the match award.

While the game ended on some­thing of a downer, that can’t de­tract from the evo­lu­tion of what is the strongest Wales

“This Wales team is dif­fer­ent. Fit­ter, stronger, more res­o­lute and filled with a win­ning men­tal­ity”

squad I’ve seen in my time. That’s some ver­dict I know, but it’s true.

Af­ter vic­to­ries over Scot­land and Tonga ei­ther side of end­ing a 10-year wait to beat Aus­tralia, the dis­play against South Africa was, for me, Wales’ best of the au­tumn. Let me qual­ify that state­ment.

The rea­son I think that is be­cause for long pe­ri­ods of the game, and es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half, Wales had their backs to the wall. They were up against it with a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent sens­ing blood. When Jesse Kriel scored for South Africa just be­fore the hour mark, the game was in the bal­ance. In years gone by, Wales would have folded at that point and gone on to lose the game.

Not now. This Wales team is dif­fer­ent. Fit­ter, stronger, more res­o­lute and filled with a win­ning men­tal­ity. Gone are the scars of the past. War­ren’s team are play­ing in the mo­ment and they won’t let any­thing stop this win­ning run from end­ing.

Wales’ start to the game was just elec­tric. That’s the stan­dard we must set ev­ery game. Then they were able to rely on the now fa­mous ‘Red Wall’ to block out al­most ev­ery at­tempt the Spring­boks made to try to get past them.

South Africa are a bru­tally phys­i­cal team, but Wales caught them cold and to be 14-0 up in­side 20 min­utes against a top Tier One na­tion was noth­ing short of ideal. From there, War­ren’s boys had the up­per hand and they never let it go.

They were two fine team tries too – and who would have thought To­mas Fran­cis would have been the one to come up with it? He was 100/1 to score first at the book­ies. If only I’d had a spare ten­ner!

El­lis played a su­perb role in its cre­ation, sell­ing Mal­com Marx an un­be­liev­able dummy and then keep­ing a cool head to pop the ball up for Fran­cis. Just a few min­utes later it was two and El­lis was again in­volved, pick­ing the ball up from the back of the scrum and send­ing the ball right.

In the end it was Gareth An­scombe’s lovely float­ing pass which al­lowed Liam Wil­liams to score in the cor­ner. It was su­perb, yet sim­ple rugby and the fin­ish from Liam was world class.

On the whole, I thought Gareth had a good game and he can be pleased with his Au­tumn. To start three of the four games at fly-half means he’s had a break­through cam­paign. For me, he’s now firmly the man in pos­ses­sion of the red No.10 shirt go­ing for­ward into the Six Na­tions, but don’t rule out my old mate Dan Big­gar.

When he came on af­ter 61 min­utes he cer­tainly calmed things down and his ae­rial game was top notch. He also kept his cool to slot those two match win­ning penal­ties. He still has so much to of­fer and is go­ing to be a key man mov­ing for­ward to the World Cup next year.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.