'I'd only give myself five out of ten' says modest Wales No. 8 and British Lions hopeful Toby Faletau
MODESTY can be a precious commodity in sport.
Whether it is a chest-beating Olympic sprinter or a brazen, bolshy boxer, few athletes talk themselves down.
But Toby Faletau is one rugby player who seems to be remarkably harsh on himself.
Built like a cruiserweight but as softly spoken as a nervous schoolboy, Faletau does not fit with most people's idea of a barnstorming international back-rower.
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Yet that is exactly what the Wales No. 8 is — a brutish physical phenomenon who leaves a trail of destruction wherever he goes on a rugby field.
In Wales's three Six Nations matches this year, Faletau has made a startling 39 carries and 32 tackles, missing only one — a collector's item considering that he had a 100 per cent tackle success rate at the 2011 World Cup.
The Tongan-born 22-year-old was one of the few Wales players to impress in the opening defeat to Ireland, while his performances during the victories over France and Italy have seen him touted as a British Lions shoo-in this summer.
Faletau, however, is less than impressed with his own form.
"I wouldn't say that I am playing well — I'd give myself a five out of ten," he says.
"I am just hanging in there and taking each game as it comes.
"I think there is plenty of room for improvement in my game. I just have to keep working hard on all parts of my game.
"My stats are good but that's nothing big. I don't really bother with them too much; they are not always a fair reflection of how things are going."
Faletau grins bashfully when he is asked about his own displays, breaking into infectious giggles at times.
With Ireland's Jamie Heaslip struggling for form and England's Ben Morgan missing with injury, Faletau appears to be the in-form No. 8 of the Six Nations.
He will face one of his closest rivals for a British Lions jersey on Saturday, when Wales take on Scotland at Murrayfield.
Montpellier's Johnnie Beattie has been superb for the Scots in recent weeks, and his form means Faletau has not allowed himself to even consider his Lions prospects at the moment.
"I'm not even thinking about making the Lions tour," he says. "The team comes first and it's all about finishing the Six Nations well and getting good results in our last two games.
"All that I am concentrating on is Scotland because you cannot afford to look too far ahead in international rugby, so there's no point in even thinking about England until after this weekend.
"Beattie's a really good player, athletic and dynamic. He carries well, and he's quick and powerful.
"I've had this throughout the tournament — they are all big guys and there have been some great challenges.
"Louis Picamoles (France's No. 8) has been outstanding. He is lethal with ball in hand and is so hard to stop, and I think Beattie has been the same. He is powerful at carrying and in defence."
Faletau will pack down in a reshuffled back-row on Saturday, with Wales opting to restore Sam Warburton at openside flanker with the Ospreys' Justin Tipuric dropping to the bench.
His regional colleague and blindside flanker Ryan Jones has held on to the captaincy despite the return of usual skipper Warburton, and Faletau is looking forward to playing his part in an altered pack.
"Sam and Justin are different types of players and bring different things to the game," he says. "Justin plays a bit wider but they are both great at the breakdown. Ryan is getting the boys together and doing a great job as a captain while his performances have also been outstanding.
"Dan (Lydiate) was brilliant last year but Ryan has done as well in a different way. Dan is superb with his chop-tackling but Ryan is a real team player who does his job well and everyone responds to that. He loves the dirty work and gets stuck in. Whenever there is a ruck he is in there somewhere — find the ball and you will find Ryan."