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‘Nice one cuz’ – Vunipola toasts 100 cap Faletau

Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau

‘Nice one cuz’ – Vunipola toasts 100 cap Faletau

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Taulupe Faletau reaches 100 caps for Wales in Paris today and has been sent a very special tipple with which to mark the occasion.  

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One of the true Welsh greats of his era, Faletau has been sent a bottle of “very expensive Japanese whiskey” by his cousin, England star Billy Vunipola, to help mark the occasion.  

If the 32-year-old Faletau gets to the chance to toast a Wales win it will be one of the best of a career that has already seen him win two Six Nations titles, one Grand Slam and reach a World Cup semi-final. He also has three British & Irish Lions tours to add to his Welsh haul. 

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Taulupe Faletau scores against Italy

Fellow No 8 Vunipola was there at the start of Faletau’s remarkable journey when the pair threw a rugby ball around the pitches of Pontypool and New Inn as kids, alongside Billy’s older brother and fellow England international, Mako.  

“Toby has grown quite a bit since those days – in all ways,” said 68-times capped Billy.  “We all had dreams, but they were just maybe to win one cap in international rugby – never mind 100.   

“To get to 100 caps, given where he has come from, his parents coming over to Wales from Tonga and the sacrifices they made to give all of Toby’s brothers and sisters opportunities, is an incredible achievement.    

“He’s been through bad periods with injuries, like missing out on the World Cup in 2019, so to reach 100 caps is a testament to his hard work and resilience. He’s one of the true greats of Welsh rugby, one of their legends, there’s no doubt about that.”   

The eighth Welsh player to reach a century of caps for his country – Gareth Thomas, Martyn Williams, Stephen Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar and George North are the others – Faletau has come a long way since head coach Warren Gatland first put his faith in him and gave him his first cap against the Barbarians in 2011.  

Taulupe Faletau in 2011

“It’s an unbelievable achievement what he’s done in the game. He’s been an incredible servant to Wales,” said an admiring Gatland, who is still relying on him 12 years on.  

“He’s still as quiet as ever and doesn’t say a lot. I can remember the early days when he came out of the Dragons, and he never missed a training session. He was available every week. 

“If you look at his record and how many times he started and played early on in his career, that was pretty impressive. He was unlucky at Bath with the amount of injuries he picked up there.  

“He’s been brilliant for the Lions as well. This moment is a great accolade for him and his family as well, and they’ll all be there on Saturday.  

“It’s something we need to celebrate, and he needs to enjoy it. Hopefully the players go out there and perform to make it special for him.” 

But while he joins an exalted group of players around the world in the ‘100 Cap Club’, Vunipola remembers a time when his young cousin was left out of a South Gloucestershire and Stroud College team, to make way for Darren Barry. Barry would go on to play for Bristol, Cornish Pirates, Worcester and Newcastle, but never got further up the England ladder than U19 level.   

“Darren Barry got picked ahead of Toby for a big game against Hartpury College. I remember he walked away on his own and when he came back, he had those eyes that told me he’d been crying,” said Vunipola.   

“That’s how much it meant to him – to not play because he wasn’t selected devastated him. It was a real motivating point for him because from then on, he was just so determined, and he took that onto the field.”   

Vunipola’s family moved to England and the Saracens star won a scholarship to Harrow School, while Faletau stayed in Pontypool and quickly became a rising star at Newport Gwent Dragons.   

“I went to Harrow and the next thing I knew Toby was playing for Newport Gwent Dragons with this huge Afro!” added Vunipola.  

“I thought, ‘wow!’ and then soon after that he was making his Wales debut against the Barbarians and off to the 2011 World Cup. He had an unbelievable, rapid rise.   

“We used to play rugby games on PS2 and then, all of a sudden, he’s playing at a World Cup for Wales. The biggest compliment I can pay him is to say that’s he’s one of the most determined, resilient and mentally strong players I have come across.   

“He’s very driven. He wants to play at the World Cup – his move back to Wales was geared with that aim in mind.    

“He missed the last World Cup with a collar bone injury and he’s very motivated to be there at the one in France later this year.”  

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