Jonathan Davies has described Wales’ autumn Test series as “an upward curve” after they concluded their November schedule with a record victory against hapless South Africa.
A 27-13 victory at the Principality Stadium was only Wales’ third victory over the Springboks in 110 years, and it secured a 75 per cent autumn success-rate following earlier wins against Argentina and Japan.
It was Wales’ best autumn return since 2002, but unquestionably a better achievement than 14 years ago, when their scalps were Romania, Canada and Fiji.
And while critics have been quick to condemn Wales’ style of play for chunks of the November schedule, they have ended 2016 on a three-game unbeaten run and with momentum going into this season’s RBS 6 Nations Championship.
“I think it has been an upward curve,” Wales centre Davies said.
“We have always said that traditionally we get better as a team when we stay together longer, and I think it showed.
“There has been a lot of criticism over the way we’ve played. In parts (against South Africa) we showed we could silence those critics.
“Whatever they think, it is their own opinion obviously, but we have beaten South Africa, and that’s the most important thing.
“They are a Rugby Championship team, one of the best teams in the last couple of years, and we have to make sure we beat what is put in front of us, regardless of the form they show.
“We’ve beaten South Africa, and there were 13 players in our changing room who have now beaten South Africa twice (Wales also toppled them two years ago), and we can take a lot from that.”
Second-half tries from hooker Ken Owens and flanker Justin Tipuric eased Wales home, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny moved past 550 points for his country by kicking five penalties and a conversion.
The only negative note for Wales came through flanker Dan Lydiate’s departure with a knee injury that interim head coach Rob Howley admitted “doesn’t look too good at this moment in time.”
For Howley, in charge this season while Warren Gatland concentrates on British and Irish Lions business ahead of next summer’s New Zealand tour, a Six Nations campaign of three away games – and tournament favourites England and Ireland at home – promises to provide a major examination.
The last time he oversaw Wales’ Six Nations aspirations three years ago, though, Howley delivered the title.
“There is another level in us, and we will have to go to another level if we are going to get near to the likes of England and Ireland,” Howley said.
“It’s a challenge to look forward to. The players can enjoy Christmas now.
“I am delighted (with the autumn series). We set a goal of bettering our 70 per cent home record, and three wins out of four is 75 per cent if my maths is right, and we have beaten South Africa for only the third time, by a record margin.
“We will take it. But we play England and Ireland at home in the Six Nations, and that is where we need to go to the next level. That is what we spoke about in the changing room afterwards.”