Analysis: Wales on the up after historic autumn

A clean sweep of victories in an Autumn Test series for the first time in their history means that Wales head into the Six Nations on the up.

A clean sweep of victories in an Autumn Test series for the first time in their history means that Wales head into the Six Nations on the up.

Warren Gatland’s side might not have grabbed the headlines like Ireland, the other unbeaten northern hemisphere side, but they only toppled one top-ranked side compared to Wales’ two.

Wins against Australia and South Africa at Principality Stadium added to a comfortable victory against Scotland and a ten-try thrashing of Tonga.

The 20-11 victory against the Springboks was their ninth in a row – Wales’ best run since 1999 under Graham Henry – and a fourth on the bounce against the South Africans.

Wales will need three more victories to eclipse the record of the 1910 team and make it 12 on the bounce, with France, Italy and England standing in their way when the Six Nations rolls around.    Standout players

Alun Wyn Jones – After 120 caps and 12 years as part of the squad, the Ospreys lock always stands up when he pulls on the red jersey.

He has been given a lighter workload for his club this season and Wales are reaping the benefits as he showed energy around the park with 27 carries and 37 tackles over the three matches he featured in.

Justin Tipuric – With Sam Warburton’s retirement announced in the summer, the Ospreys back-rower is looking to make the No. 7 jersey his own.

Tipuric was busy, particularly in defence in the close games with Australia and South Africa.

He will look to continue his good form before the Six Nations with Taulupe Faletau, Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi all getting back to fitness with hopes of taking a starting berth in the back row.

A brief mention for Tipuric’s back-row partner Ellis Jenkins, who was monstrous for Gatland’s side after he came into the team late against South Africa, but is now set for an extended period on the sidelines with an ACL injury.   Breakthrough stars

Adam Beard – Competition for second row places is fierce but the Ospreys lock grabbed his chance against the Springboks and Australia, as he was chosen to partner club-mate Alun Wyn Jones in the two biggest games of the Autumn.

Jake Ball and Cory Hill are certainly in for a battle if they want to unseat the 22-year-old 6ft8in second-rower come February.

Tomos Williams – The Cardiff Blues No. 9 is competing with Gareth and Aled Davies for the start in the first Six Nations game against France.

Williams has a reputation for his ability to sniff out tries – on show as he dotted down against Tonga – as well as impressing with his impact off the bench in the other three games this autumn.   What they said

Winger George North said: “We know there is another level to go, there is more to come from us. But we can be happy with how we’ve finished and there is a good foundation to push on from.

“It’s huge. The first ever clean sweep is not to be sniffed at and the boys are tremendously proud.

“It has taken a lot of hard work, not only this five-week block we’ve had, but the summer tour and pushing on from that, and hopefully we have done the country proud.

“We’ve had four big, physical games, but there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and the Six Nations.

“A lot can happen between now and then, but we can finish this block in a positive mind-set and focus on the Six Nations when it comes.”

Head coach Warren Gatland said: “We’ve got a good group of players that the Welsh public should be really proud of.

“The way they conduct themselves, prepare and train. They’ve been outstanding. I’ve been very proud of them but we‘re not getting too carried away.

“We just keep our head down, work hard and start thinking about the Six Nations.

“It’s my last 12 months and I’d like to finish on a high and for these guys to do as well as they possibly can and leave Welsh rugby in a good place.”