South Africa v Wales: Prop Dillon Lewis prepares to dig deep once more against Springboks
|Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein Date: Saturday, 9 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST|
|Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Wales (incl Radio Wales Extra and 882 MW), Radio Cymru and BBC Sport Online, plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website|
Three is often said to be a magic number but that has not been the case for Wales so far this summer.
The tight-head prop role has become something of a poisoned chalice for Wayne Pivac’s side.
Samson Lee was a long-term injury casualty, while Leon Brown was ruled out after initially being selected in the squad.
Tomas Francis arrived in South Africa with a back problem, with uncapped duo Sam Wainwright and Harri O’Connor brought into the squad to cover for Wales’ various injury concerns.
Francis then came off the replacements’ bench in the 32-29 first Test defeat in Pretoria and was knocked out with his first contact, ruling him out the rest of the tour.
The one constant has been Dillon Lewis, the man who Francis briefly replaced at Loftus Versfeld.
“I was halfway through putting a jacket on and I saw Franny (Francis) down and had to quickly take the jacket back off,” said Lewis.
“I didn’t have much time to think about it. It wasn’t nice seeing Franny down the way that he was. It was quite a nasty one, so I was hoping he was okay.
“I remember Nugget (Wales team manager Martyn Williams) telling me to get back on. You don’t prepare for those situations, they just happen.”
The result was that Lewis played almost 80 minutes at altitude and scrummaged against two world-class Springbok loose-head props, Ox Nché and Steven Kitshoff.
“It was definitely a test on the lungs and legs,” added Lewis.
“They’re big men also, so it’s not just running around you have to worry about, it’s also trying to stop them running over you.
“It was physical, tough and we went to some dark places at times, especially around the 70th minute when I was blowing. But it’s always like that against them.
“It was a tough test but probably one of my most enjoyable Test matches for Wales.”
Silencing the critics
Lewis, 26, has reached 39 caps having made his Wales debut in 2017. In that time he has been part of a World Cup squad and Six Nations-winning teams.
But the Cardiff prop has never nailed down a first-choice Wales spot and has had to cope with people writing him off.
There have been concerns surrounding his scrummaging, including in the build-up to this Springbok series.
“It was probably a bit of a win-win game for me,” said Lewis.
“Everybody wrote me off at scrum time so if it didn’t go well it was nothing people didn’t already know, but if it did go well, it’s something to take confidence from.
“I’m probably giving people reasons to doubt me at times, that’s my own inconsistency I have to try and iron out.
“I tend not to listen much to external factors. If the coach is picking me, I must be doing something right. The main thing is to focus on the job and dull those external voices down.”
Wales forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys believes Lewis “does not get enough credit”.
Humphreys also points to Lewis’ character, recalling him playing through the pain barrier in November 2021 when he was on the field against Fiji for 77 minutes despite suffering injury to his feet.
“I tore both the plantar fascias in my feet so I wasn’t supposed to be involved but Franny pulled out on the Thursday,” Lewis said.
“WillGriff John was starting and got concussed two or three minutes into the game against Fiji, so I had 70-odd minutes of Fijians dancing around me!
“It was extremely painful, just lots of painkillers and adrenalin.
“Again, it’s one of those things. You’ve got a job at hand, you can’t let it affect you, you’ve got to get on with it.”
‘It will get darker’
That sort of attitude stood Wales in good stead last weekend, although they just fell short in Pretoria.
Lewis insists the squad believe they can back up that performance as they attempt to win a first international against the Springboks in South Africa.
“Coming into the tour everybody wrote us off and expected us to get hammered,” added Lewis.
“We’re only one Test in but they are the challenges you want to face.
“They’re probably the best pack in the world at the moment at scrum and lineout time.
“What better test for us? I enjoyed it on Saturday and know the boys did. We’ve got two more to look forward to.
“But even though there are a lot of positives we can take from it, we still lost. It’s only good if we back it up again and we need to go up another level.
“I expect it to get a lot tougher over the next two Tests. It’s been a while since both teams have played together, so it’s only going to get better, more physical, faster. I expect it to get darker on Saturday.
“It’s something we’ve had a long time to think about and can’t shy away from. If you give them an in or show a weakness then they’re the Boks, they’ll take it.”