Taulupe Faletau. . . The Leader Of The Pack Who Prefers To Stand At The Back

Warren Gatland is hoping the handing of the captain’s armband to Taulupe Faletau will improve the one area of the back row forward’s game where he falls below expectations.

The phrase “lead by example” might have been made for softly-spoken Faletau since he is a player who prefers to communicate through deeds rather than words.

When the Bath No.8 speaks up, ears usually have to be leaned in his direction and anyone who misses the start of things has normally escaped the core message. On the rare occasions that Faletau is presented for media duties, the front seats are at a premium.

But Gatland wants Faletau to up his verbal game when he leads Wales out against Italy on Sunday – and pull a few others along in the same direction.

“It’s part of his development as a leader within the group,” says the Wales coach. “He is part of the leadership group within the squad and it’s a good opportunity for him to contribute more.

“It’s a great opportunity for him and when I asked him on Tuesday if he would be keen, he jumped at the opportunity.

“He’s still pretty quiet so the good thing is that it’s going to encourage other players around him to be vocal as well.

“That’s something within the Welsh culture that traditionally players have relied on the captain taking the mantle in terms of doing speaking and communicating within the group.

“It’s been a big work-on for us for a long time to get others to contribute and this is part of the process.

“He is a world-class player and it’s an opportunity to get some more out of him in terms of his leadership building up to the World Cup in 2019.”

Faletau – who missed the opening three Six Nations rounds through injury – takes the captaincy from Alun Wyn Jones, who has been rested as part of 10 changes made to the side that lost to Ireland.

Warren Gatland. Pic: Getty Images.

Bradley Davies, George North, Justin Tipuric and Liam Williams are the others in the team with over 40 caps, but none of them have much more experience of top level captaincy than Faletau.

The Tongan-born player captained the Dragons once before leaving in 2016 and admitted beforehand that his previous leadership experience was mostly confined to computer games.

But his influence on the field for Wales is huge and as the most reliable high level performer for his country over the past three years, his re-introduction was always going to happen as soon as he proved his fitness for his club following a knee injury.

The Test Lion has a year remaining on his contract at the English club, but has yet to decide whether he will then follow North in returning to a Welsh region on a dual contract.

Unlike Rhys Webb, Faletau’s tally of 70 caps puts him comfortably above the new 60-cap threshold that allows players based outside of Wales to continue playing international rugby.

“I’ve still got another year here to go, I’ve just come off this injury, so my main focus is to try and play a bit of rugby for Bath and play well,” says Faletau.

“I’ve got another year so it’s nothing to be thinking about right now. There’s still plenty of rugby to play so that’s my main focus.”

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