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Wed 1 May 2019 | 08:38

Wales star has a lot of ground to make up

Wales star has a lot of ground to make up
Wed 1 May 2019 | 08:38
Wales star has a lot of ground to make up

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: A week is a long time in rugby. Just ask Taulupe Faletau.

Only last Thursday he was telling RugbyPass that contact with the Wales hierarchy had been scarce. Five days later, though, came reassurance he hasn’t been completely forgotten despite his twice-broken arm.

Inclusion in the 42-strong Welsh training squad for the World Cup is only base camp. However, the 28-year-old back row admitted he has much-lost ground to recover to get on that plane to Japan.

He may have a stellar CV, Lions Test starts along with 72 Wales appearances, but he hasn’t represented his country since March 2018 and knows he has much to do to demonstrate he can become his country’s starting No.8, just like he used to be.

“One hundred percent, it would be massive to make the World Cup,” he told RugbyPass ahead of a summer training schedule that will include altitude training in the Swiss Alps before a warm-weather camp in Turkey.

“I haven’t played much rugby this season. If I manage to get on that plane it would be pretty amazing and everything else, but there is a lot of work to be done between now and then.

(Continue reading below…)

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“The boys who were there already, they have got a head start and I have got a lot of catching up to do. I have to concentrate on making up some ground,” he said, adding there had been little contact lately with Warren Gatland and co.

“That’s exactly it, they had got their hands full dealing with the squad at the [Six Nations] time so I didn’t really hear much from them. You can’t really blame them, they had got their hands full there.

“My main concentration is hopefully getting my arm right, getting some games under my belt and seeing what happens then.”

Faletau was last seen in a Welsh jersey when they beat France in the 2018 Six Nations. That was a second win in a row for Gatland’s team, but that sequence has ballooned in his absence to 14 games unbeaten.

All the way there has been a myriad of milestones. Two wins over South Africa. A series win in Argentina. The scalp of Australia. The Six Nations Grand Slam. Not the kind of success you’d like to miss out on, especially with Ross Moriarty starting seven wins and fitting snuggly into the No.8 shirt.

“I’m not too bad,” claimed Faletau about his emotions when looking from the outside into the camp. “Sometimes, especially during the Six Nations, right before a game you might go, ‘Ah, I might have been out there’. But when the games kicks off you just start jumping up and down supporting the boys and hoping they will win. They did a great job and came away with a Grand Slam.

“I didn’t [watch any games in person], but I was back in Wales for the Ireland match. We watched it in a pub back home in Pontypool and definitely it was awesome.”

Faletau’s first step towards the World Cup will be getting fully back up to speed with Bath. Awaiting scan results, he claimed the outlook was positive and his participation at training was set to crank through the gears.

However, having been through all this type of rehab over the winter only for it to let him down in his comeback game when he suffered a second arm fracture, it will only be when he has come through games unscathed that he will feel he is fully recovered.

“Definitely, you can do all the training but… it was like that first time round. You did all the training, all the rehab and all the stages of contact I needed to come through and it felt great and all that kind of stuff. Then obviously I played the first game and it didn’t quite hold up, so it’s about hopefully getting through the first game and that will be a massive confidence booster.

“When I did it again I felt a pop in my arm and I guess I knew it wasn’t right. I had the X-ray that night and it wasn’t great. It was, ‘You’re back on the rehab schedule’. I’ve still got a couple of weeks yet. I’m towards the end of it now, so this is where all the hard work needs to go in.

“The first half of it [rehab] you can’t really do much. You have got to let the wound heal and wait for the bone to heal. The X-ray will determine if I can start doing a bit more in terms of rugby-specific stuff. Hopefully, I can get that feedback from the surgeon and then start pushing the pace and trying to get back up to the speed of things.

“I just come in and do my conditioning in the morning, check in with the physios and they are just making sure everything is on track. The big stage is jumping into team training and taking a bit more part in the rugby stuff. It feels okay so hopefully I’m just waiting for some good news rather than anything else.

“That [to play] would be a huge confidence booster in my arm for me personally, just to feel comfortable in my arm. It has been a while. I haven’t played much rugby this season so if I was able to get back on the pitch before the end of the season, that would be awesome for me.”

Being stuck in eighth spot with just eight wins in 20 matches wasn’t the type of Premiership campaign Bath were hoping for, but Faletau’s stint in casualty means he hasn’t been close enough to the team to pinpoint what exactly has left them down.

“I can’t really comment on that because I have been injured most of the season and I haven’t been around the team as much as I would. All that stuff, I wouldn’t be the first man to ask.

“The back row as a unit has been pretty solid and has done itself justice. They have done really well over the season. It’s just I guess overall the results is the main thing and that is what we haven’t been getting. It’s a tough old league, but as a squad, we would expect to be a bit higher than what we are now.”

Faletau’s green light to prepare for a shot at making his third World Cup finals was made public on Tuesday at roughly the same time that Bristol confirmed veteran George Smith – his hero growing up – isn’t being kept on next season. Inspiring kids was what Faletau hoped to do at the Gallagher Insurance Train with your Heroes Bath hosted for the Melksham Under-11s.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to do this kind of thing growing up but the kids today hopefully they will get inspiration from training alongside us. That would be awesome because definitely growing up we looked up to players and watched a lot of rugby on TV. It definitely inspired us.

“George Smith is always a favourite. I love the way he played the game and fortunately, I managed to share the field with him a few times. I was star-struck playing the game, ‘This is George Smith’ sort of thing,” explained Faletau, whose intermittent social media use is usually retweets aimed at good causes such as helping a cousin from Tonga fight kidney failure.

“I don’t really use it much. I guess I just retweet and if a retweet can help anything, then why not have it?

“My cousin’s all good. We have managed with the fund that was raised to bring him to New Zealand and he is in the process of applying for residency. Hopefully, he can get that and the treatment can carry on with his dialysis.”

By Liam Heagney, @RugbyPass

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Wales Star Has A Lot Of Ground To Make Up | Rugby365