No captain has ever been more justified in instructing his men, “do as I do, not as I say”, because if Wales play as boldly as Taulupe Faletau no doubt will at the Principality Stadium on Sunday, they will have no problems whatsoever in recording a 12th successive victory over Italy.
Mighty in bone but soft in speech, Faletau admits he was “stunned” when Warren Gatland asked him to take the armband in absence of the rested Alun Wyn Jones. He must be the quietest Welshman to assume the role, but he is determined that his natural shyness will not stop him from imparting the message that under no circumstances should Conor O’Shea be allowed to celebrate the end of the Azzurri’s 15-match winless run in the NatWest Six Nations with an historic first victory in Cardiff.
“My actions can do the talking,” Faletau said. “The boys know what is expected of them.”
Faletau may be coy but he is certainly not the type to fret and he is not at all concerned about captaining his country for the first time and, indeed, any side for just the second time in his nine-year, 74-Test career.
The only previous occasion was for the Dragons two years ago. “The only time I’d been captain before that was playing Fifa,” Faletau said. “I just see it is an incredible honour. Being here is a dream in itself and getting a chance to lead the team is a bonus.”
Falateu missed the first three games of the Championship because of knee-ligament damage and his absence was clearly felt in the defeats in Twickenham and Dublin. He commands the respect of the dressing room, as Bradley Davies, the second-rower, explained.
“Without Alun Wyn there, it might be a little stressful for me,” Davies joked. “Look, it’s a chance for another to step up and I’m really looking forward to playing under Toby to be honest. As captain you don’t need to shout and bawl. Believe me, I’ve been involved with some right headers in my Pontypridd and Rhonda days. There are always different types and Toby talks sense. Look at his decision-making. His rugby brain is phenomenal.”
Gatland said he chose Faletau as “part of his development as a leader within the group” and opined that his unassuming persona “is a good thing as it will encourage others around him to be vocal as well”. In truth, having made 10 alterations to the starting XV, there were not that many other options.
Justin Tipuric would have perhaps been the obvious choice, but then he will have his head full playing out of position on the blindside to accommodate James Davies’ debut on the openside.