Wales completed the ‘Autumn Slam’ with a victory over South Africa at the Principality Stadium on Saturday as the winning run was extended to nine games dating back to March.
Warren Gatland kept faith in the side that beat Australia for the first time in 10 years, with the only change to that starting XV seeing Liam Williams replace Leigh Halfpenny at full-back as the Scarlets man failed to recover from a concussion in time.
There was a late change though as Dan Lydiate was ruled out on the morning of the game, replaced with Ellis Jenkins as Aaron Wainwright stepped up to the bench, although the Dragons back rower was soon into the action as well, replacing his regional team-mate Ross Moriarty after the latter took a blow to the head.
As a result Cardiff Blues captain Jenkins was switched to number eight but the chopping and changing did not impact on his overall game and he was the main contributor as Wales opened the scoring inside 10 minutes.
South Africa had made the early running, with only a Gareth Anscombe intervention pushing Jessie Kriel into touch as the try line beckoned, but with their first possession the home side pushed into the opposition 22 with a smart nine phase attacking set.
With the try line beckoning the Springbok line was broke by a superb Jenkins dummy that left Malcolm Marx for dead, before the back rower had the presence of mind to draw the last man and offload for Tomas Francis on his shoulder. Anscombe added the extras and it was 7-0 early on.
He was back on the tee just over five minutes later after the second try of the game, with field position being secured by his own half break and offload for Ken Owens.
That particularly attack was ended by a South Africa knock-on, but from the scrum a set move saw Gareth Davies and Anscombe combine to put Liam Williams into space and the full-back beat three men to finish well in the corner. A second conversion doubling the scoreline.
Handre Pollard hit back from the tee after Justin Tipuric was penalised for being offside as the first half reached the halfway point, before trading missed kicks with opposite number Anscombe.
The game was settling down into a tough contest as both teams battled for supremacy, but just as it seemed the scoreline was going to hold until half-time, South Africa camped themselves in the Welsh 22.
A lucky bounce off a lineout freed Embrose Papier who had the try line at his mercy only to knock on but the scrum threw up a Springbok free-kick and they set about pounding away at the Wales line.
Fortunately for the home side they had a fired up Ellis Jenkins in their ranks, first managing to hold the ball up over the line as Kriel went for the try, before winning a superb turnover with the help of Justin Tipuric as Eben Etzebeth carried.
This sent the teams in with the score showing 14-3 at half-time, but even the break didn’t stop South Africa’s desire to get over the whitewash and they started the second period as they ended the first, putting huge pressure on Wales’ defence.
The Shaun Edwards system stood up superbly for 15 minutes, with Jenkins and Tipuric again teaming up to kept the Springboks at bay, but eventually some superb handling from Willie Le Roux allowed Jesse Kriel to sneak over in the corner, getting on the scoresheet at the third time of asking.
Pollard missed the conversion but Elton Jantjies was on target soon after from a penalty after Liam Williams was turned over on the floor and suddenly it was game on at 14-11.
As the scores came ever closer Warren Gatland swung into action and moved to bring on some replacements. Rob Evans and Elliot Dee freshened up the front row, while Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar added a different dimension at half-back.
That experience of Biggar was crucial straight away, as his kicking game first caused Jantjies to fumble the ball inside his own half, before a second prod through was not well covered by South Africa and Justin Tipuric pounced for the turnover.
The Northampton fly-half happily struck the ball between the posts and was back on the tee just a few minutes later as, for the first time in the half, Wales went through some phases in the opposition half and tempted the visitors offside.
Biggar was successful for a second time and took the lead out beyond a converted try with less than 10 minutes to go.
South Africa attempted to push for a second try, but the Welsh defence continued to stand strong and, as it has throughout the Autumn, led the home side to a fourth victory this November and a second over the Springboks this year.
Unfortunately George North’s turnover to win the game was somewhat soured as Ellis Jenkins lay prone on the field after going over awkwardly on his knee, and it was not the note to end the series on as the flanker was stretchered from the field with a potentially serious anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Despite that, Wales are in an excellent position heading into the last Six Nations before the World Cup, with a winning run of nine and sitting third in the world rankings. Don’t dream yet, but things are looking good for Japan.