As Wales players rest up after their tour exertions, in his latest column Robin Davey reflects for Dai Sport on some of the unexpected plus points of a trip that far exceeded expectations – and the impact it may have on the international season ahead.
Wales go into their autumn series against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa with a spring in their step on the back of a third successive victory over the Springboks and a 2-0 Test triumph against Argentina in Argentina.
Who would have thought that a short while ago? Even head coach Warren Gatland would have taken a summer of positive performances, rather than results, given that a number of leading players like Jonathan Davies and Sam Warburtion were still injured and leading players like Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Ken Owens and Taulupe Faletau were left out in order to rest after their efforts for Wales and the Lions.
Instead Gatland decided to go on tour with quite a few inexperienced players, the aim being to develop greater depth in the squad during the build-up to next year’s World Cup and to produce more players capable of playing international rugby.
He succeeded probably beyond his dreams. Chief among those who excelled themselves almost out of the blue were Cardiff Blues prop Dillon Lewis and Ospreys lock Adam Beard.
Lewis impressed with his scrummaging against a Pumas pack who take pride in that part of the game, while Beard became a real performer in the line-outs and will seriously challenge for a place in the autumn.
On top of that the already formidable competition in the back row became that bit stronger again with the arrival of 20-year-old Dragons player Aaron Wainwright, not even an original selection and with just one season in regional rugby under his belt.
The back row is now the most heavily congested area in the entire squad. James Davies and co-tour captain Ellis Jenkins were both outstanding, Wainwright has emerged while Warburton, Ross Moriarty, Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and Aaron Shingler should be available again, though Shingler maybe not until the new year, so picking a Wales back row is going to be a nightmare.
Scrum half is another part of the team where the battle for places will be high despite the loss of Rhys Webb who left for France and his sojourn with Toulon only this week.
Gareth Davies is pretty firmly installed, Aled Davies had game time on the tour while Tomos Williams, the young Cardiff Blues player, emerged as another real discovery at this level.
Joining them in the battle for places next season could be Dragons recruit Rhodri Williams, the former Scarlets player who has just spent two highly successful seasons with Bristol, frequently winning man-of-the-match awards last season.
He has returned to Wales, lured by the new 60-cap ruling, with the expressed aim aim of trying to add to his three caps.
Rhys Patchell and Josh Adams are two more backs who flourished on the tour and will look to unseat Dan Biggar and Steff Evans when the serious international business gets under way again in November.
It all adds up to a lot of healthy competition for places, a far better and more competitive squad with real hopes of doing well in next year’s World Cup.
And it means that the four regions can approach the season with a new sense of optimism.
There’s still a lot of ground to make up on Leinster in particular but the regions all have refreshed squads and will feel capable of mounting a real challenge for Pro 14 League honours.
And there are real hopes of adding to the success of the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues in Europe as well.