They looked vulnerable, raw, and unrefined at Test level, but Wales’ young tourists have surprised many – including Robin Davey, who’s happy to eat his slice of humble pie as Warren Gatland’s team prepare for the second Test against Argentina.
Whisper it – or shout it from the rooftops – but all of a sudden, Wales’ World Cup prospects look a whole lot brighter than they were even a few weeks ago.
Head coach Warren Gatland decided to leave a number of key players at home as they embarked on their short summer tour, taking in South Africa in Washington, something of an unknown quantity, followed by two Tests against Argentina, expected to be mighty difficult.
It seemed even more daunting considering that players of the calibre of Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric were not considered while Jonathan Davies and Sam Warburton remained sidelined by injury.
Instead, Gatland went with a fairly inexperienced squad, declaring that the main idea was to develop a number of players and increase the depth of the squad.
Wales’ prospects appeared at best mixed and at worst pretty poor, especially considering Argentinian rugby was on something of a high after leading side the Jaguares had won six games in a row in Super Rugby and had even beaten Auckland Blues in New Zealand.
Yet this unsung Welsh squad have defied the odds and they go into Saturday’s second Test against the Pumas with a 100% record, having won both matches so far.
Though it was a very close run affair, Wales beat the Springboks (for the third time in a row) 24-22 and then they really hit their straps to dismiss Argentina 23-10 in the first Test last Saturday.
In the process, Wales have probably surprised even Gatland himself, not just by their results but with the quality of their play, scoring two well constructed tries last week and generally showing a refreshing eagerness to play with width.
In the process a few players have given Gatland the kind of headache he will appreciate, parachuting themselves right into consideration for the autumn internationals and beyond.
Foremost among those must surely be tight-head prop Dillon Lewis, the inexperienced Cardiff Blues player excelling against the tough Pumas on the back of just eight regional appearances last season.
Joint tour skipper Ellis Jenkins has already looked the part, but impressed in the opening tour fixture against South Africa and is now one of a whole series of back row forwards battling for places.
Ospreys lock Adam Beard is another who showed real promise against Argentina last week while among the backs Rhys Patchell directed proceeedings, Hadleigh Parks confirmed what a vital cog he is in the Welsh machine, Hallam Amos showed glimpses of his running ability and George North looks back to his best.
Those who doubted the wisdom of Gatland’s intentions have had to eat a bit of humble pie, for he has pretty much achieved his objective.
Of course one swallow doesn’t make this particular summer and there remains Saturday’s second Test against the Pumas when it could possibly go pear-shaped.
Complacency could be another danger, but that seems unlikely as this squad appears refreshed and confident in what they are doing, the target being to achieve a clean sweep on tour.
Beating Argentina on their own soil is no mean feat but to do it twice and with so many leading players missing would be a real feather in their cap.
Some quality depth has been provided and in some areas, like the back row, there are now so many options available with Warburton, assuming he regains full fitness, Tipuric, Navidi and Faletau (Aaron Shingler is out of the autumn series) now challenged by the likes of Jenkins, James Davies, Ross Moriarty, Seb Davies (though he is also an option at lock) and young Aaron Wainwright. Others like Ollie Griffiths and Thomas Young may well come into the reckoning once the new season starts.
So, suddenly, there’s a spring in their step.
Wales will go into the season with fresh hope and the World Cup, little over a year away, can be approached with real optimism.