Warren Gatland will be “gutted” over the loss of Taulupe Faletau for the November Test series, according to the back row forward’s Bath clubmate Jamie Roberts.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that Wales No.8 Faletau suffered a broken arm playing for his club against Exeter in the Gallagher Premiership at the weekend.
The injury, which is near his wrist, is expected to keep him out of action for a couple of months.
Faletau was already going to be unavailable for the game against Scotland on November 3 – which falls outside of the international window – but he will also miss the Tests against Australia, Tonga and South Africa as well as the opening matches of Bath’s European campaign.
Roberts – who is sidelined himself at present with a fractured cheekbone – said: “He’ll be gutted, Bath will be gutted and I’m sure the Welsh coaches and Welsh public will be gutted as well.
“He’s a top operator. It’s disappointing he’ll be injured for November and for Europe. He’s a good lad, a top player, but unfortunately it’s an occupational hazard.
“You never get to pick and choose when you get injured but unfortunately it’s his time.”
Faletau is scheduled for an operation to have a plate inserted in his forearm and Wales’ major priority will now be to make certain he is back to full fitness for the Six Nations early next year and the following lead-in to the World Cup.
Faletau’s cousin, the England international Billy Vunipola, has suffered two similar injuries in recent seasons and was out for three months on both occasions.
Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder tried to put a more optimistic assessment on a likely timeframe for recovery when he said: “Taulupe has got a broken arm, he’s got a radial break. He’s going to have a plate put in so it’s anything from four weeks or above.
He’s a British Lion, he steps up, he’s a big-game player. It’s just one of those unfortunate things but it’s a good opportunity for Zach Mercer, who has been playing well all season.”
Faletau, still only 27, has been Wales’ automatic pick at No.8 for most of the period since the 2011 World Cup and is arguably the most important and talented player in the team.
In his absence this autumn, Gatland could turn to Ross Moriarty of the Dragons to fill the gap or look to Cardiff Blues’ pacier Josh Navidi.
Roberts has not given up on the possibility of an autumn recall following the facial injury he suffered playing against former club Harlequins earlier in the season.
Speaking courtesy of sponsors Land Rover, he said: “It feels really good.
“I’m just getting back to having full biting power in my mouth, which is good fun. I can actually chew food now! I don’t have to swallow pieces of steak whole, without chomping them down fully. But it’s going fine and my eye is looking far better now.
“I’d love to play in Europe. Let’s see how things shape up this week and next week.
“I want to get back playing as soon as possible, without undue risk to my face.
“But I’m desperate to play in the Champions Cup for Bath. It’s one of the main reasons I moved to this club, so I’m excited.”
Bath kick off their Champions Cup campaign at home to Toulouse on Saturday.