FRONT ROW LE­GEND

Wales On Sunday - - SPORT -

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

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