Faletau lets his feats do all the talking

Wales No 8 gets pundits chatting but his performances speak for themselves

You will hear it said often that Toby Faletau is a man of few words. Some disagree; they say he is much less garrulous than that. So what? The tale of the Tongan lad turned Wales No 8 is one of towering rugby talent and splendid displacement. He is not being paid to wow the poetry punters at the national Eisteddfod.

"I hardly say anything," Faletau admitted, when asked about his contribution to any team talk before today's meeting with Scotland. And why is that? "I can't think of anything to say," he replied. Those well-considered and self-effacing syllables that do escape the Faletau lips come with a thoroughly Welsh accent. And the 21 years he has spent reaching his first Six Nations' Championship – his tournament debut was in last Sunday's two-point victory in Ireland – began with a grumble by the King of Tonga.

The rugby-loving monarch made a suggestion to Phil Kingsley Jones – travelling coach, man of Gwent and agent to the Tongan-descended All Black Jonah Lomu – that the Pacific Islanders' team needed a leg-up. Jones organised tours by Tonga to South Africa and the UK in 1997. Faletau's father Kuli, a beanpole second row, was signed by Ebbw Vale, where Jones's son Kingsley was the captain, and within a year Kuli and full-back Josh Taumalolo were two Tongans alongside 13 Welshmen in the Vale side who knocked Cardiff, Swansea and Newport out of the cup before losing the final, 19-12, to Llanelli. Talk about a small world. Jones Jnr is now coaching Russia – with Taumalolo as backs coach.

"Kuli didn't bring the family [to live in Wales] straightaway," Jones recalled from Lisbon, where Russia played Portugal yesterday. "It took him a few months to get the money together and to make sure it was the right thing to do. The butchers were giving him cheap meat and the Valleys people took to him – a man with a dry wit, a wicked sense of humour but who only says something when it needs saying."

While the seven-year-old Taulupe, or Toby as he decided to call himself one day at school, was mostly at home with his mum Vika, it was his brother Siua who was getting under everyone's feet at the club. There is another older brother, Steve, and two younger sisters, Sia and Fipe.

But rugby appealed, and Toby gained a scholarship at Bristol's Filton College, studying for a BTEC National Certificate in sport. Being over the border was not out of sight, out of mind. Faletau was soon playing for Cross Keys and the Newport-Gwent Dragons academy. A twist of fate might just have taken him to Harlequins – he had impressed the now Dragons coach Darren Edwards while the latter was working as a talent-spotter for the London club.

Wider attention arrived when Faletau stood out in a Dragons LV Cup match against a stellar Ospreys back row of Jerry Collins, Marty Holah and Ryan Jones. "It was his natural athleticism," said Edwards, "the way he managed to get out of tackles."

Explosive from the base, bright in his distribution, Faletau made his Wales debut last June, against the Barbarians. "It was different, it was hard," he said. "Quicker, more physical. You can't afford to make errors." Then he went one better than his dad by playing in a World Cup – Kuli had been in the squad in 1999 but didn't play; the programmes noted him as a "former coastal officer" with 51 caps.

"We saw a huge development in Toby's defensive game at the World Cup," said Edwards. "His work-rate in defence is outstanding. In attack the Dragons like to see him in the back field, in a running role. Wales are different so I feel there's much more to come of him in attack. The more phases they play, the more you'll see of Toby. But that comes down to their game plan."

Toby is good buddies with Dragons hooker Lloyd Burns, a former bricklayer. Kuli is a security guard in Gwent, at schools and industrial estates, and the family gather at the same spot on the terraces for matches at Rodney Parade. It's where Toby heads first at the final whistle. "Dad always talks to me about rugby stuff, always telling me stuff to work on, little things," he said. "My parents came out to see the France game at the World Cup. I enjoyed everything about it, playing with the best players in the world."

And with the last of his few words, he reminisced over Tonga and looked forward to Scotland. "When I was a kid we spent days on the beach, just playing with friends. I went back after the World Cup for five days, for the first time since 2001, to mum's town, Vaini. It wasn't much changed. Same people, a bit bigger. They're happy for me, they're supportive.

"Scotland are going to be up for it after last week [losing to England]. They should have won it. Or so I heard off other people."

Wales v Scotland is on BBC1 today, kick-off 3pm

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions