British and Irish Lions 2017: Taulupe Faletau expects Sam Warburton to walk the walk, not talk the talk

The Wales No 8 admits Warburton is not a captain of many words but one who will do his talking through his performances after being selected to lead the Lions this weekend

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The Independent Online

When the British and Irish Lions have their backs against the wall in their three-Test series against the All Blacks, they can turn to their captain, Sam Warburton, for inspiration even if it doesn’t come out of his mouth, says Taulupe Faletau.

The Wales pair have been named in Warren Gatland’s first squad for the opening tour game against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians this Saturday, despite Warburton not playing any rugby since 7 April due to a knee injury.

With Billy Vunipola ruled out of the Lions squad after undergoing shoulder surgery, his cousin, Faletau, is now the clear favourite to wear the No 8 jersey in the three Tests against the All Blacks, to pick up where he left off in 2013 after starting the third and final test against Australia. Along with Warburton, Faletau joins another Welshman in the back-row in Ross Moriarty, and with the trio already holding a deep understanding, Faletau believes that Warburton will be a captain who leads by example rather than with his voice, as other captains have done so in the past.

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“I think with his expectations he kind of puts that onto to the team,” Faletau said. “It is everybody's expectations to come out here and do a good job. That's what he believes in and what he tries to get the boys rallying around.

“He doesn't really talk as much as maybe someone else does, he's one of those that leads by example, that's his kind of thing. Definitely, as a collective we're together in what we believe in.

“Throughout the time he's captained me he's handled himself amazing in all the situations he's been put in, obviously captaining Wales at such a young age and then the Lions. With the help of other leaders in the squads he's done a good job.

“He speaks about being nervous but he never came across like that to me. I think he's settled into it more and more as the years have gone on but I've never been there and thought he's nervous or anything. He's always calm, he's good.”

Despite his last appearance coming two months ago, Warburton has said that he has no fears over his fitness heading into the rigorous 10-match tour, and Gatland has instilled his faith in his tour captain by selecting him to lead the side in Whangerei on Saturday.

“He has picked it up. We haven’t played any games but his sharpness is still as good as it was when he was on fire in the Six Nations, so he seems to be in good shape and raring to go,” Faletau added.

I've got no reply for him to be honest. It's his opinion and I'll just go about doing my job
Taulupe Faletau

“I guess if you haven’t been playing, you are recovering and freshening-up. I guess the boys who have been injured should be fresher because they won’t have played as many games as the other boys in the squad.”

Faletau will start the opening match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians (Getty)

The Tongan-born wales international also brushed off comments made by All Blacks great Zinzan Brooke, with the back-row legend claiming ahead of the tour that Faletau lacks the “mongrel” to be a leading player in New Zealand.

“That's up to him to say what he wants to say,” Faletau said nonchalantly. “I've got no reply for him to be honest. It's his opinion and I'll just go about doing my job.”

Faletau still has one cousin on tour with him in Mako Vunipola, but Billy Vunipola is absent with injury (Getty)

Faletau has played 400 minutes against the All Blacks during his six-year international career, scoring his one and only try in the first of last summer’s three-Test series, though of course he has never been on the winning side against the reigning world champions as Wales have never beaten them. With Vunipola absent after undergoing shoulder surgery this week, Brooke believes that the Lions lost one of their biggest weapons in their arsenal, and feels that Faletau does not offer the same dangers that the England No 8 would have posed.

But Faletau was keen to move away from Brooke’s criticism, and asked if he believes his performances against the All Blacks have been good enough in the past, he simply replied: “I think so.”