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
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam