Warren Gatland was left fretting over a serious injury to back rower Ellis Jenkins after Wales completed a first clean sweep of autumn Tests.
Cardiff Blues flanker Jenkins produced a man-of-the-match performance in Wales’ 20-11 victory over South Africa, but he had to receive oxygen after being injured in the last play of the game and carried off on a stretcher at the final whistle.
Jenkins is almost certain to miss the 2019 Six Nations with suspected knee ligament damage and will hope to regain full fitness before the World Cup, which starts in September.
“He’s got scans booked in for Monday – but it looks like an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament),” Wales head coach Gatland said after the Cardiff win.
“It’s not brilliant and he’s obviously very disappointed. I thought his performance was outstanding and he deserved man-of-the-match.
“You have to really feel for him. Hopefully it’s not too bad, we can rehab him and get him on the field as soon as we possibly can.
“When anyone gets injured it’s the hardest thing to take because it’s a big year for a lot of players.
“He was a co-captain on the summer tour and, when you see a player who has put in a lot of effort to get in the team and be part of the 23 in big matches, you do really feel for them.”
Jenkins’ injury took the gloss off Wales’ autumn clean sweep and a fourth successive victory over South Africa.
First half tries by prop Tomas Francis – his first for Wales – and full-back Liam Williams gave Gatland’s side a healthy 14-3 interval lead.
South Africa fought back to make it 14-11, but the poise of replacement outside-half Dan Biggar secured Wales’ ninth successive win, their best run since 1999.
“We’re in a good place at the moment and we have not lost at home this year, which is a nice thing,” Gatland said.
“We’ve got a good group of players who the Welsh public should be really proud of.
“The way they have prepared in this campaign, the way they have trained, they have been absolutely outstanding.
“But we’re not getting too carried away. There will be the keyboard warriors out there, criticising me, or Rob Howley (attack coach) and Robin McBryde (forwards coach), who take a lot of crap from people, so we’ll just keep our head down and keep working hard.”
On the fourth autumn win, Gatland added: “It was the toughest game we’ve played and we need to be hard on the players to challenge them technically.
Time for a new desktop wallpaper? 🖥️ pic.twitter.com/KhW8aFmXOW— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 24 November 2018
“We need to improve on certain things because when you play against the best teams in the world you can be exposed.
“But the good things about these guys is when they get in a bit of a hole they can dig themselves out of it and keep their composure.”
South Africa won two and lost two on their four-game tour of the northern hemisphere, with defeats to England and Wales bookending victories over France and Scotland.
Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus said he had no complaints about losing to Wales, saying: “I think the scoreboard was a reflection of the game.
“Wales are third in the world and they showed why, we can find a few excuses but we would only be bluffing ourselves.
“Wales were totally in sync and aligned with what they want to do tactically and technically.
“We felt we had a glimpse of chances to get back in the game, but on the day they were better.”
Eddie Jones’ men were emphatic 37-18 winners in the concluding autumn international after second-half tries from Elliot Daly, Joe Cokanasiga and Owen Farrell swept them out of sight.
But once more the spotlight fell on the officiating after referee Jaco Peyper declined to punish Farrell for a shoulder-led tackle on Izack Rodda as he stopped the onrushing Wallabies lock on the stroke of half-time.
Peyper declined to use the TMO for a challenge that Sir Clive Woodward said should have been a penalty try – an outcome which would have thrust Australia 17-13 ahead with a conversion to come.
Farrell escaped sanction for a similar tackle in the autumn opener against South Africa, while a week later England were denied victory against New Zealand when a late try was ruled out by the TMO.
“I think it was a penalty try, yeah. I do. I want to make it clear that England were the better team. They deserved to win and had us under pressure for many minutes of the game,” Cheika said.
“But the justification that Rodda tried to take him on with his shoulder is ludicrous – that’s what the referee said. That’s what you do when you carry the ball.
“I went to the referees’ meeting they had here before the Wales game at the start of the autumn and they referred back to the Owen Farrell tackle against South Africa.
“At the meeting Angus Gardiner (referee of England v South Africa) was hung out to dry when it was said in front of all the coaches that that should categorically have been a penalty. And if that’s a penalty, this is three penalties.
“We had three disallowed tries and not one referral. Maybe we need to move Australia up to the northern hemisphere.”
Jones adopted the same line he has used throughout the autumn when asked for his view on the officiating of Farrell’s tackle by refusing to criticise the officials.
“You guys love the TMO, I don’t. I just accept whatever decision the TMO makes and that is the end of it,” Jones said.
“We have had some good decisions, we have had some bad decisions, we just accept them.”
“Speak to Michael about it. I’m sure he’ll talk about it. Why talk to me about Michael Cheika?”
Cokanasiga ran in England’s third try as the poorest Australia team seen at Twickenham for some time began to fall apart and the 21-year-old Bath powerhouse almost added a second with a brilliant catch and run.
Jones added: “Joe’s just starting. He’s still got his training pants on. Wait until he gets proper pants. He’ll be able to play a bit. He’ll definitely get them. He’s going shopping now.”
Canada defeated Hong Kong 27-10 in Marseille to claim the 20th and final place at the Rugby World Cup in Japan next September.
Glasgow’s DTH Van der Merwe scored two tries with Canada’s other touchdown coming from Ray Barkwill.
Gordon McRorie converted all three tries and added two penalties.
Hong Kong’s try was scored by Conor Hartley with Matthew Rosslee kicking the conversion and a penalty.
The victory places Canada in Pool B with matches against New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia.