Looking further forward, erasing the bitter memory of the injuries that forced him to miss the 2019 World Cup by going to France next year would be another item high on his birthday wish list. Health permitting, that looks likely, although after an injury ravaged six years at Bath, he isn’t taking anything for granted.
The totemic Cardiff Rugby No 8 currently stands on 92 Welsh caps and can boast a further five Tests with the British & Irish Lions. That means he is on course to become the next Welshman to join World Rugby’s 100 cap club.
|WORLD RUGBY MOST CAPS – WALES|
|Alun Wyn Jones 166 (154 W / 12 B&I)|
|Gethin Jenkins 134 (129 W / 5 B&I)|
|Stephen Jones 110 (104 W / 6 B&!)|
|George North 109 (106 W / 3 B&I)|
|Dan Biggar 106 (103 W / 3 B&I)|
|Martyn Williams 104 (100 W / 4 B&I)|
|Gareth Thomas 103 (100 W / 3 B&I)|
|Jonathan Davies 102 (96 W / 6 B&I)|
|Leigh Halfpenny 100 (96 W / 4 B&I)|
|Adam Jones 100 (95 W / 5 B&I)|
Not that he ever thought he’d get this far in his career. The young boy who grew up in Ebbw Vale after his Tongan international father, Kuli, brought over his family to live in Wales after he had enjoyed playing here so much, thought that 32 was a retirement age.
“When I first started playing, I thought that at my age now I’d be on my way out. It takes me a lot longer to get going for training and games these days, but as soon as I get warm, I’m ready to go,” admitted Faletau.
“People look after themselves a lot better now and we have so much support around us. It helps you go on that bit longer. What Alun Wyn Jones has done by playing on to his age is an inspiration to us all. But it’s not just him, you only have to look at players in other sports who’ve gone on to an older age.
“When I began, I thought there was a certain age that was your limit. What AWJ, Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have shown is that you can push way back the age barrier.
“I want to keep on going for as long as I can. I’d love to get through 100 caps for Wales, go to next year’s World Cup and maybe see if we can go beyond the semi-finals. Going all the way at the World Cup is the Ultimate aim and that would be some achievement.”
First capped against the Barbarians on 4 June, 2011, Faletau has two World Cup campaigns under his belt, but missed out on the run to the Bronze Final in 2019 due to a collar bone injury. Add in two breaks of the same arm, a significant calf injury and his six years at Bath, before returning to Wales this summer to play at Cardiff, was more than slightly jinxed.
Imagine what his cap number might have been had he remained fully fit over the last 12 years. He has still managed to play 92 times for Wales out of the 124 international matches played since his debut against the Barbarians. Take out the seven games he didn’t qualify for while away on three Lions tours and he has appeared in 78% of the Wales games in his career.
No wonder Wayne Pivac is delighted to not only have him back fully fit, but also back playing in Wales.
“Bath wasn’t a good run for me in terms of injuries. I’m enjoying being back in Cardiff, having a change of scenery and being around the boys,” added Faletau.
“We lived in Bath for six years and it’s good to be back for my wife and family. She’s around her friends and everything is a bit closer. Life in Wales is a bit more normal.
“Our boys, Israel and Ezekiel, are now six and three and starting to run me around a bit. They have started football and rugby clubs at St Peter’s RFC and Rhiwbina Cosmos. They are enjoying it and having fun, and it’s good to see them becoming competitive. I’m learning to become a good touchline Dad, although I nearly got sent to the car the first time I watched them play!”
Having missed out on a possible 20+ more caps due to injury, Faletau wants to make sure he does everything he can to extend his international career for as long as possible. The young Dragons No 8 of old seemed almost indestructible as he churned out top-class performances week in, week out for both club and country.
“The calf injury I picked up at Bath after the 2021 Lions tour became a real pain in the backside. What could have been four to six weeks turned into four to six months instead. You get so many setbacks you learn from them and manage yourself,” he added.
“It would be nice to look back and find out how I was able to play week in, week out for both the Dragons and Wales without getting injured. The run I’ve had in the last six years has been at a different extreme.
“When I first came through it was great playing with Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate. It’s a cool feeling being back in the squad with Lyds – we’re both still here giving it a go.
“That’s not easy in Wales, because the back row is a really competitive position. They just keep on coming through and for me to still be here is a good feeling.
“Tommy Reffell is the latest player to break through. He was amazing out in South Africa and has been class for Leicester. He’s been able to carry that form on and I’m sure he will be looking to do the same this autumn.”
Although he has captained Wales in the past, Faletau prefers to let his actions do his talking for him. While the likes of inexperienced back row players like Reffell and Josh McLeod will naturally look to their world class No 8 for guidance, he would prefer they follow his lead rather than seek inspiration advice.
“I don’t naturally see myself as a leader, other than through my actions. When I started in the Wales team it was players like Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins who we’d all look to and they would certainly let you know if you weren’t on point,” recalled Faletau.
“Those verbals helped me to develop. It was always direct, and it helped me to know where I was – that was helpful to me.”
Alun Wyn Jones is still at the heart of the Welsh pack, new skipper Justin Tipuric now has 86 caps to his name, as well as three Lions tours, while Ken Owens and Dan Lydiate are also still heavily involved. There is no lack of experience or leadership within the forward options available to Pivac, so Faletau can probably just get on a do his thing.