FRONT ROW LEGEND
HE isn’t a player whose name is often splashed up in neon lighting, but Tomas Francis has had a strong autumn for Wales. South Africa had a really strong scrum, with their loose-head Steven Kitshoff increasingly regarded as one of the best set-piece operators in the world. A week earlier, the flamehaired prop had Scotland’s WP Nel in all kinds of trouble at Murrayfield and Nel is no mean player himself.
Make no mistake: if Wales’s setpiece had gone the same way they would have struggled to get the job done in the final game of their November campaign.
It did creak at times, which was no surprise because of Kitshoff’s quality and the sheer weight coming through from the Springbok back five.
But Francis absorbed the pressure and, in so doing, played a key role in Wales clinching their first autumn clean sweep.
For me, he’s been one of the Welsh success stories of this month.
When he burst on the scene a few years ago, he was widely considered to be mere back-up for Samson Lee, able to fill-in for the Scarlet in the event of injury before leaving the stage when Lee returned.
Not any more. He has developed into a really good tight-head who does his bit around the field as well as in the tight. I’d say he is now number one in the position and Lee will have to play well to regain that status when he returns.
The win over the Springboks owed much to Wales’s defensive excellence and they showed their strength in depth once again by being able to reorganise after Dan Lydiate pulled out with injury and then Ross Moriarty failed a HIA during the first quarter.
Ellis Jenkins took his chance with both hands.
I thought Lydiate was the man for this particular mission because of his brick-wall tackling, but I’m also a fan of fielding two opensides and Jenkins and Tipuric caused the Boks problems at the breakdown. It’s a huge shame for Wales and Jenkins that he picked up what appears a serious knee injury. All we can do is wish him a speedy recovery.
If I had to pick out the two Welsh stars of the autumn, players who have really hit the heights, I would have no hesitation in coming up with the names of Tipuric and Jonathan Davies.
Tipuric always plays well. His consistency is sometimes taken for granted, but shouldn’t be. In the three matches he has played this month he has been bang on form and stepped up to fill the void left by Sam Warburton.
Davies, too, is a world-class player who has played to that level.
OK, he missed a few tackles early on against South Africa, but he tight- ened up and made a lot of ground with ball in hand in the second half.
South Africa had only themselves to blame for their loss. They seemed to be building momentum in the third quarter but lost composure, were careless with the ball and made a series of silly mistakes.
Warren Gatland will take the win and be delighted with his side’s full house of victories.
The biggest plus for him is the depth that Wales are building, but he will know there are still areas of concern, one of those being at half-back. I didn’t think Gareth Davies had a great game and while Gareth Anscombe flickered in attack he missed with two penalty kicks to touch and a shot at goal. Those errors could have cost Wales. Gatland will understand that, but those issues are for another day. This weekend, he will simply be savouring an autumn job impressively done. IN ASSOCIATION WITH