Toby Faletau must take the plaudits
AT times, amid the excitement of a record-breaking win against England, Toby Faletau was in danger of becoming the forgotten man.
All the talk was of the marvellous double-seven combination of Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton in the Wales back row.
It was like talking about Athos and Porthos but neglecting to mention Aramis... and Aramis was quietly going about staking a major claim for the Lions’ number 8 jersey.
The Six Nations has been a good tournament for the men at the base of the scrum with France’s Louis Picamoles and Italy’s Sergio Parisse carrying their countries.
Faletau has been up there with them and has comfortably been the best in his position in the home nations.
Saturday, against Grand Slam-chasing opponents and in front of a bumper television audience, was the perfect time to show what he can do.
And Faletau, aided by a magnificent performance by the tight five, didn’t disappoint.
In a game where the collisions were huge, having Faletau’s magnificent footwork was a real blessing, the Newport Gwent Dragons star is like Joe Calzaghe in his pomp in the way that he can swerve away from a haymaker.
This Six Nations may not have included some of the astonishing long-distance charges with ball in hand that Faletau produces for his region.
But the 22-year-old – yes, just 22 – has shown an equally vital asset; the ability to let others look marvellous.
He has an insatiable appetite for work and, in the absence of grafting blindsides Ryan Jones and Dan Lydiate, was more than happy to do the dirty work.
Faletau isn’t a lover of stats – “I don’t really bother with them too much” – yet his make pretty pleasant reading this tournament, of which he played all but the final few seconds against Scotland.
On Saturday he carried the ball 17 times to take his Six Nations tally to a whopping 64 (average of 12.8 per game) and he has made 46 tackles this tournament, missing just two.
Yet, as ever, the delightfully modest Faletau was happier eulogising his teammates than talking about himself, shrugging off Lions talk simply as “flattering”.
“Sam and Justin were unbelievable but you expect those sorts of performances from both of them now,” he said, after posing for the team photo with the Six Nations trophy.
“They were both outstanding and are just great to play with in the back row. They were electric and their energy was unbelievable, I haven’t seen anything like it.”
“It feels great to not only win the game but to win the championship,” he added.
“It’s all credit to the boys and all the hard work that they’ve put in over the past few weeks.
“To turn things around after the Ireland game is amazing, we’ve got our confidence back and for the victory against England to be so convincing is even better.”
It was a win that caused many to rewrite their list of greatest-ever Welsh performances and prompted comparisons with great sides from the past, yet Faletau prefers to look forward.
“I’m not too familiar with the side from the 1970s so I wouldn’t really like to make comparisons but I know that everybody speaks really highly of them,” he said.
“All that we can do is keep achieving things and celebrate victories and trophies when they come along, and I think there is plenty more to come from us.
“We have lots to work on so there is no reason why we can’t get better.”
As ever, Faletau was loathe to build up the role that he played in the magnificent title success.
Before the round four game against Scotland the Dragons star marked his tournament as a 5/10. What would his final rating be?
“Six out of ten this time, I think,” he said with a smile.
Add three, Toby, add three.