Taulupe Faletau: Wales number eight nearly 'back to his best'

Taulupe Faletau has played 73 internationals for Wales and three Tests for the British and Irish Lions
Taulupe Faletau has played 73 internationals for Wales and three Tests for the British and Irish Lions

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac says number eight Taulupe Faletau is approaching his best form after his man-of-the-match display against Italy.

Faletau and fellow back-rower Justin Tipuric proved the defining difference between the two sides as Wales clinched fifth place in the Autumn Nations Cup.

"You've got to say that he's back to near his best, so that's pleasing for us going forward," said Pivac.

"He was outstanding and Justin went well along with him."

Pivac added: "We need our British and Irish Lions to stand up and play like that. Last week [against England] we had five of them missing, this week those two were there and played very well."

He revealed Faletau had benefitted from a tactical attacking alteration in the 38-18 win over Italy.

"We shifted him from playing in the 15 metre channel into the middle of the park, where he can get his hands on the ball and use his footwork" added Pivac.

Wales heading in right direction, says Pivac

"He did that exceptionally well, making line breaks and setting up tries."

Bath back-rower Faletau, 30, has suffered an injury ravaged couple of years, missing the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Pivac believes Faletau and the majority of the Wales squad have improved physically over the last two months.

"Taulupe is one of many guys that have benefited from the work he has done over the last eight weeks," said Pivac.

"When we did the fitness testing in week one, we were well behind the eight ball.

"They didn't come out of club rugby too well, to be honest, and we've just talked about that now.

"The messaging going back will be hopefully the boys will be doing the necessary work so they come into the Six Nations where we've finished off now in terms of fitness levels.

"We finished that game very strongly, we weren't able to do that at the start of the competition."

After being left out against Georgia and England, regular wing George North also made a notable impression at outside centre and scored a try.

"It was a positive, he did more good than things that he wouldn't be that happy with," said Pivac.

"All in all it was a worthwhile selection. With George working hard at his game, he should be able to offer us more than just being a winger at this level of the game. So he will be a winger that can play at centre going forward."

There are, though, injury concerns surrounding Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones (knee medial ligaments) and full-back Liam Williams (high ankle sprain) who were both forced to leave the field and will be assessed next week after scans.

Liam Williams was forced off the field against Italy with an ankle problem after missing the game against England with a facial injury
Liam Williams was forced off the field against Italy with an ankle problem after missing the game against England with a facial injury

Selection stability

Wales have won three games in 2020, with the Italy double and a Georgia victory, but suffered a further seven defeats against England, France, Ireland and Scotland.

Pivac blooded 11 new caps in 2020 and has made more than 30 selection starting changes in the last three games.

With Wales set to open their 2021 Six Nations campaign against Ireland on 7 February in Cardiff and injured established performers like Ken Owens, Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty in contention to return, Pivac predicts more selection stability.

"We selected a different type of squad for this autumn series," said Pivac.

"It is difficult when you make so many changes but that is what we were prepared to sacrifice.

"The odd performance is probably not what the public or what we would have liked, we were hoping to be more consistent.

"I've got to take that on the chin and say that, with the learnings we've had, it has had an impact on performances.

"We'd like to think we'd have a good crack at it [2021 Six Nations], like all the other teams.

"Come the tournament, we'll be putting together a squad we think can go out and win games put in front of us.

"We'll be trying to do that and be going with a more consistent selection.

"All the players have had opportunities, now we'll sit down and do a ranking by position.

"Hopefully we'll be in a better place in terms of our depth than we were a couple of months ago."

Top Stories