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Williams column: This is the strongest Welsh squad I have ever seen

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.

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 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.

Grit: Wales’ defence held strong in the second after as the Springboks sought to wrestle the lead away from the hosts (photo: Warren Little/Getty Images)

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.

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