The last Autumn Internationals before next September’s Rugby World Cup in Japan drew to a close last week as nine Cardiff Blues players represented three countries across Europe.
It was a generally positive few weeks for those playing for their national teams, and for Cardiff Blues it was going so well until the last 30 seconds of action spelled disaster, but more on that later.
Starting with the USA Eagles who completed what was the best year in the history of their national team during November after an unbeaten Americas Rugby Championship and three summer test wins over Scotland, Russia and Canada, respectively.
Blaine Scully, who hadn’t played for Cardiff Blues before the Autumn but recovered from his throat injury, started all three November tests for the USA, at full-back in the first game before switching to wing for the following two. Samu Manoa came off the bench in the last game.
That last game was the only defeat that our two players featured in, as the Eagles went down to Ireland with a scoreline of 14-57 at the Aviva Stadium, but it followed a 31-5 win against Romania and a 30-29 win over Samoa.
Facing Scully in that game mentioned last was a certain Rey Lee-Lo, who started every game of Manu Samoa’s during November at inside centre. After the USA defeat the Samoans went on to fall 27-19 at the hands of Georgia, but bounced back with a 10-28 win over Spain in which lee-Lo bagged himself a try.
Meanwhile in Wales, Warren Gatland’s men were having a very successful summer as they went unbeaten and stretched the winning run to nine games dating back to March and the Six Nations.
Four Cardiff Blues players were named in the initial squad, with two more added during the course of the Autumn, with three particularly making an impression at the Principality Stadium.
Dillon Lewis continued to earn plaudits after some impressive outings over in the Americas during the summer, starting against Scotland and appearing off the bench against Australia and South Africa, with his breakdown work coming on alongside his scrummaging.
Another young player in the form of Tomos Williams also got plenty of game time as he came off the bench against Scotland, Australia and South Africa, as well as starting against Tonga, as he nailed down the second choice scrum-half spot.
The main story though has been Gareth Anscombe, who got a chance in the coveted number 10 jersey against Scotland, and impressed enough to retain the role the next week and led Wales to a first win over Australia in 13 games. From there he was also at fly-half for the win over South Africa and earned plaudits for his performances.
Aside from those three there was a cameo appearance for Jarrod Evans against Scotland who finally earned a deserved Wales cap, while Seb Davies started at number eight once again after being invited into the squad against Tonga, putting in arguably his best performance in that out-of-position role.
Unfortunately there was not such good news for Ellis Jenkins who missed the first week of the Autumn due to injury, but played well off the bench against Australia before captaining the side to the win over Tonga the following week.
In the final game of November he was due to be on the bench once again to face South Africa, but a late injury to Dan Lydiate saw him start at blindside flanker. An unrivalled performance was widely praised, but as the clock turned red it became apparent a Wales player was down. It was Ellis and it didn’t look good.
The prognosis seems to be ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments, likely ruling him out for the remainder of this season and putting World Cup involvement in doubt, although after undergoing surgery this week the exact length of time he will be out will become clear. All we can do it hope for the best.