Six Nations 2023: From Tonga to Wales centurion – the story of Taulupe Faletau
Six Nations 2023: From Tonga to Wales centurion – the story of Taulupe Faletau
|Venue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 18 March Kick-off: 14:45 GMT|
|Protection: Reside on S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport web site & app; reside textual content commentary on BBC Sport web site & app.|
Good however humble. An unassuming warrior. Among the best gamers Wales has seen.
The decision on Taulupe Faletau seems to be common.
He’ll obtain a memorable milestone when he wins his one hundredth Wales cap within the Six Nations recreation towards France in Paris on Saturday.
The 32-year-old will turn into the eighth member of an unique Welsh membership that options Alun Wyn Jones, Gethin Jenkins, George North, Dan Biggar, Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas and Martyn Williams.
Faletau made his Wales debut towards the Barbarians in June 2011 and has additionally performed 5 Checks for the British and Irish Lions over three excursions.
He has been broadly considered one of many main quantity eights on the planet over the past 12 years. He’s additionally seen as certainly one of Wales’ best gamers, if not the very best, in his place.
That could be a outstanding accolade for any individual who turned the primary Pacific Island-born participant to symbolize Wales after arriving from Tonga together with his household as a baby.
He was concerned within the 2012 Grand Slam-winning facet and the 2013 and 2021 groups that celebrated Six Nations titles, and helped Wales attain the World Cup semi-finals 12 years in the past.
After beginning his profession with Dragons, Faletau joined Bathtub earlier than linking up with Cardiff.
BBC Sport Wales charts Faletau’s journey with coaches and gamers who’ve helped him alongside the best way.
Adapting to Welsh life
Faletau was born in Tonga in 1990. His household moved to Wales when he was seven.
His father Kuli, who performed 20 Checks for Tonga, was recruited by Ebbw Vale and later performed for Pontypool.
The Ebbw Vale captain on the time was Kingsley Jones, whose father Phil was Tonga coach.
That connection helped convey the Faletaus to Wales and Jones would later be Faletau’s forwards coach at Dragons.
“Kuli came visiting, initially on his personal, earlier than bringing his spouse and household together with Taulupe,” stated Jones.
“Kuli is his personal man, quiet and humble who additionally likes fun. He was made to really feel welcome and warmed to that.
“There was a big Tongan tradition in Wales and that helped them settle.
“Kuli was one of many leaders of the Tongan gamers in Wales and had a whole lot of respect.
“That they had a home on the sting of Eugene Cross Park (Ebbw Vale’s floor). It turned often known as the ‘Tongan Embassy’.
“My first reminiscence of Toby was him operating round within the automotive park leaping on folks’s automobiles and simply being a bit of boy.
“He was at all times a humble, nice man.
“To teach him afterward was unusual as a result of I had identified him as a bit of boy after which impulsively he was this worldwide rugby participant.”
Faletau’s mum Vika instructed Scrum V in 2015 his schoolfriends and academics discovered it onerous to say Taulupe so he prompt utilizing Toby. He would later revert to Taulupe throughout his rugby profession.
A 12 months after the Faletau household moved to Wales, Fe’ao Vunipola arrived from Sydney to affix Pontypool.
Faletau performed in the identical East Wales Beneath-11 facet as Vunipola’s sons, Mako and Billy.
The Vunipolas’ rugby and schooling took them to England, with Billy and Mako subsequently pledging their allegiance to the crimson rose.
Faletau was 16 when he moved to Filton Faculty in south Bristol.
The faculty’s academy director George Tavner says they initially checked out recruiting Mako Vunipola, who went elsewhere, earlier than changing into conscious of Faletau.
“He got here throughout as a respectful younger man however you could possibly additionally see he had large potential,” stated Tavner.
“He was extraordinarily uncooked after we first met him however what he had was unbelievable athletic skill.
“We’ve solely performed a really small half in his improvement however I am happy with what he has gone on to turn into.
“The most important factor Filton did for Toby was put him in an surroundings the place he was challenged each week, however he deserves the credit score for what he has achieved. It is superior.”
Tavner says on the time he had a “sturdy relationship” with Dragons academy coach Will Thomas, who Wales should thank for taking part in an element in not shedding Faletau to England.
Bristol Academy had talks about bringing Faletau into their set-up however Tavner and Thomas helped guarantee Faletau turned a part of the Dragons.
Kuli instructed the Scrum V programme: “I instructed Toby, if you’re ok it’s important to come again to play in Wales.”
On a winter’s day, Thomas went to observe Faletau impress for Filton at Truro within the Day by day Mail Cup.
That efficiency persuaded him to convey Faletau into the academy, although he admits to having preliminary reservations.
“Byron Hayward was my conditioning coach and he was pushing for Toby as a result of he knew the household,” stated Thomas.
“Toby got here into the academy workplace and afterwards I keep in mind saying to Byron, ‘I’m not certain about it – the entire time Toby was staring on the flooring’.
“I stated you’ve got to have presence and persona – I used to be not satisfied.
“Byron stated what he was doing is throughout the Tongan tradition, exhibiting you respect and never trying you within the eye. I stated okay, let’s convey him in and see how he will get on.
“In a coaching surroundings, Toby was quiet and also you would not essentially understand how good he was.
“He had that pure skill. He simply needed to get on the pitch and you’d see that absolute high quality.”
Faletau’s potential was noticed by then Dragons head coach Paul Turner, who handed him a senior regional debut aged 18, in a 9-8 win in Edinburgh in 2009.
Faletau made 11 membership appearances for Cross Keys and two for Newport.
“Jonny Westwood is certainly one of my finest mates and was up at Cross Keys and stated ‘we had one of many younger Faletaus and he’s going to play for Wales’,” recalled Turner.
“I first noticed Toby when he was ready outdoors the Rodney Parade gates. He simply regarded a coy, quiet boy.
“I talked to him however I do not suppose for the subsequent 12 months I bought a whole lot of phrases out of him. He was very humble.
“He was such a very good participant, nice to educate, simply bought on with what he wished to do.
“You possibly can see he was one thing totally different and was going to turn into world class at some stage. He had that X-factor.”
Faletau’s Wales debut got here towards the Barbarians in June 2011, when he began in a 31-28 defeat.
“We have been happy with him when he performed for Wales,” stated Kuli.
“I instructed him, that is your nation.”
Warren Gatland chosen Faletau for his first and one hundredth Wales caps, 12 years aside.
The captain – for the primary time – the day Faletau made his debut was Sam Warburton, who would go on to to steer his nation 49 instances in 74 internationals and play 5 Checks for the British and Irish Lions.
“Considered one of my first recollections of Toby was an early expertise when he got here into the Wales squad and we used to do that Shaun Edwards coaching drill,” stated Warburton.
“He was carrying into me and I went to place a shot into him and I keep in mind being rocked again with the explosiveness he had at even that younger age.
“I carried on with the drill however I felt like I had a little bit of whiplash within the neck and I realised how a lot energy he had.
“At 20, he was able to play Take a look at stage. As a quantity eight, that is fairly freaky.”
A lot of Warburton’s Wales experiences have been within the again row with Dan Lydiate and Faletau, who emerged on the worldwide scene on the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand when he made 83 tackles through the competitors, not lacking one.
Warburton says Faletau was additionally a relaxing affect off the pitch.
“I keep in mind pre-match with everyone getting fairly pumped, Toby would at all times pray earlier than the sport and he can be left alone together with his house as a result of he had his personal routine,” stated Warburton.
“I miss these days within the altering room and it was such a privilege to play alongside him.
“I used to love sitting subsequent to him as a result of we have been each chilled characters, whereas Dan was a bit extra emotional.
“We might not say a lot, simply have one embrace earlier than kick-off. That was sufficient to know you have been going to the top of the earth for one another.”
So the place does Faletau rank among the many trendy greats?
“I’ve at all times stated Shane Williams is the very best Welsh participant I’ve performed with as a result of he’s the one man who has single-handedly gained us matches,” stated Warburton.
“As time has passed by and I’ve watched Toby, he’s up in that bracket with Shane and I couldn’t choose certainly one of them.
“By way of quantity eights, he’s up there with Kieran Learn and Sergio Parisse in a league of their very own because the world’s finest.
“I’d say that to him and he thought he was nowhere close to them.
“He’s the worst individual I’ve met for taking a praise, he doesn’t imagine what you might be telling him. He would say he was garbage and different gamers have been lots higher.
“He genuinely has no clue how good he’s. Hopefully on Saturday the penny will drop with him and he’ll realise what he has achieved.”
Excellent room-mate (nearly)
Flanker Justin Tipuric is Faletau’s common room-mate on Wales journeys and the pair have been sharing in Good through the build-up to this milestone match.
Tipuric, who has performed 92 internationals for Wales and been chosen for 3 Lions excursions alongside Faletau, says his buddy won’t just like the fuss.
“He is a shy outdated man,” stated Tipuric.
“He is certainly one of a form and deserves every thing he will get. He’ll be shying away after the sport and will not need to do any of the initiations or have any of the fuss, however we’ll be sure he does.
“It’s one heck of an achievement, however he runs away from all of it. I suppose it is one of the best ways to be.
“Individuals look as much as him due to the kind of individual he’s. All people can see his rugby stuff however it’s about how he’s off the sector and the best way he’s together with his household.
“He is very grounded, so chilled. He may in all probability carry the world on his shoulders and folks would not know. He at all times works onerous and desires to get higher on a regular basis.”
Tipuric says Faletau has just one minor flaw.
“He snores a bit of bit, that’s the solely dangerous factor I can provide him,” added Tipuric.
“He’s tidy which I like. He’s organised and neat and I’m a bit fussy that approach. So it really works nicely between us.”
Faletau can be emulating a member of his prolonged household by reaching 100 worldwide caps.
Faletau is married to Charlotte Rhys Jones. Her sister Emma is married to none aside from Gareth Bale, Wales’ former soccer captain and report males’s goalscorer.
Faletau and Charlotte have two sons, Israel and Ezekiel, and introduced in January they’re anticipating their third baby.
The household is anticipated in Paris to rejoice the achievement of a contemporary Wales nice.
Taulupe, or Toby, Faletau deserves all of the accolades he receives.