Asked to describe his Guinness Six Nations performances four rounds in to a memorable Championship, Taulupe Faletau modestly replied: “I wouldn’t say I have been amazing or anything like that.”
There will be several million ecstatic Wales fans queueing up to disagree.
Faletau has been a key driving force behind ensuring the trophy has ended up in Cardiff for the second time in three years.
Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship 2021 – Vote Now!
Industrious carrying and relentless hits have made the 30-year-old a focal point of Wales’ efforts in attack and defence and Faletau can now celebrate a third Championship medal.
This one may be all the sweeter given how injury left him watching from the sidelines as his teammates won the 2019 Grand Slam – a period in which doubts began to creep in to the No.8’s mind that he would be able to return to his best.
“It was a long time out and maybe the first couple of games back after the most recent injury didn’t go the way I would have hoped,” he said.
“So I guess there would have been doubts along the road.
“Just having a run of games and being able to stay on the field has been something I have really appreciated.
“Before, I was playing every week and probably taking that for granted. I appreciate every opportunity I get more now.”
He has certainly seized his chances in this year’s Championship, setting the tone on the very first weekend as Wales took on Ireland in Cardiff.
Off the back of a disappointing autumn, the hosts knew a winning start was pivotal and in a sign of what was to come, Faletau and his fellow back-rowers put in monumental shifts.
The No.8 made 20 tackles against the Men in Green as well as gaining 47 metres from his nine carries as Wayne Pivac’s side closed out a morale-boosting 21-16 victory.
Next stop was BT Murrayfield, where Faletau crunched into another 19 tackles as Scotland were beaten 25-24 – Wales’ momentum was beginning to grow and their all-action back-rower was at the heart of it.
Perhaps the peak of Faletau’s Championship arrived in Round 3 when England came to Cardiff.
Wherever you looked, Faletau was there. No part of the luscious Principality Stadium turf remained untouched by his studs as the back-rower gained 112 metres from 18 thunderous carries.
Add in 14 tackles and he was the obvious candidate for the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match award in a famous 40-24 triumph which secured the Triple Crown.
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The only thing that was lacking in Faletau’s formidable Championship was a place on the scoresheet and he swiftly put that right in Rome in Round 4.
The contest was just 13 minutes old when the No.8 dotted down from Louis Rees-Zammit’s pass to score his first international try since Wales toured New Zealand in the summer of 2016.
Faletau was withdrawn 52 minutes in to a comfortable 48-7 win at the Stadio Olimpico to keep him fresh for the trip to Paris in Round 5 with a Grand Slam on the line.
Locked at 17-17 at the break, a trademark Faletau carry – one of 16 he made across an epic encounter – helped earn Wales a kickable penalty which put the visitors in the lead.
Later came a sting in the tail, however, with the No.8 sin-binned in the 70th minute – the next 10 are almost certainly still playing in Faletau’s mind.
Wales led 30-20 when their talismanic back-rower saw yellow and Liam Williams following him off the field helped France gain momentum.
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Two dramatic late tries dashed Grand Slam dreams but Scotland’s famous Stade de France triumph in a re-arranged Round 3 match ensured the title did not slip from Wales’ grasp.
Few players played a more valuable role than Faletau, who ends the 2021 Championship sitting third in the list of leading carriers (66) and tacklers (77).
It has been a Guinness Six Nations packed with impressive back-rowers. Hamish Watson and Tadhg Beirne – who played two matches at flanker – join the Welsh star on the list of Player of the Championship nominees, while Faletau’s teammates Justin Tipuric and Justin Navidi have been immense.
Faletau has been right up there with the best of them throughout and provided a reminder, if it were needed, that he remains a truly world-class operator.