Taulupe Faletau: Wales and Lions star happy to do talking on the pitch

Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams celebrate Lions' second Test win over New Zealand
Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams celebrate the British and Irish Lions' second Test win over New Zealand
Third Test: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 8 July Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app. Listen to post-match reaction on the Lions Social, 11:00 BST, BBC Radio 5 live.

British and Irish Lion Taulupe Faletau is never more comfortable than when facing a tough opponent. Never less comfortable than when facing the media.

Which is why when he walked in for a scheduled press interview and saw only three reporters waiting to ask questions he flashed a smile and proclaimed "happy days".

The phrase "do your talking on the pitch" was made for the big number eight.

And Faletau shouts on the pitch. Or rather, his actions do.

On this tour he has made 66 tackles, carried the ball 48 times and in the second Test victory over New Zealand scored a match-changing try that turned Kiwi full-back Israel Dagg into a speed bump.

With the score 18-9 to the world champions, it swung momentum in the tourists' favour and helped set up Saturday's winner-takes-all showdown at Eden Park.

"That was a nice finish?" he was asked.

"Just one of many," he joked, before brushing the comment aside and delivering the standard "it's the result that matters" platitude.

His single try is a reward for a string of standout performances on this tour - performances that confirm those in the know that the former Newport Gwent Dragons player is a back row to be reckoned with.

A national - if reluctant legend - in Wales, Faletau's stock outside his adopted country has not always been as high.

But that is changing for the Tongan-born player.

Taulupe Faletau's powerful finish sparked the Lions' thrilling fightback in Wellington
Taulupe Faletau's powerful finish sparked the Lions' thrilling fightback in Wellington

The same pace he showed in that crucial dart towards the try line is equally effective stopping opponents in pursuit of it.

A try-saving tackle on Inga Finau in the very first match on this tour made him the standout player in a team that struggled for cohesion.

England's injured number eight Billy Vunipola may be missed, but Faletau has at least made sure we hardly realise it.

The irony is Taulupe, Billy and brother Mako all came through schools rugby in Monmouthshire and used to play games on a tiny lawn in Pontypool when they were children.

Mako and Faletau both played in the win in Wellington - the first by the Lions over New Zealand since 1993.

Another back row casualty - Gloucester's Ross Moriarty - means Faletau has started every Saturday match on the tour.

Though any mention of his work-rate is characteristically dismissed: "If anything, I'm one of those guys that should be fresh, I picked up a few injuries earlier in the season," he said.

Pushing Faletau on his personal achievements is a chore.

The Bath player was dominant in all aspects of the second Test, outshone his illustrious opposite number Kieran Read yet still showed more emotion celebrating team-mate Conor Murray's try than his own.

Taulupe Faletau celebrates Conor Murray's try for Lions against New Zealand
Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray were the two Lions try scorers in the second Test in Wellington

Faletau clearly does not enjoy talking about himself and though he's never rude, he's often diffident to the point of appearing apathetic.

Even outside of his media commitments, sauntering around Queenstown in a pair of shorts with little regard for the freezing cold temperatures, Faletau does not give the impression of being involved in a titanic Test series.

A win on Saturday would see coach Warren Gatland's squad become only the second Lions party to win a series in New Zealand.

Yet the only topic that initiates a change in the relaxed tone is his nine-month-old son Israel.

"I started counting down the days with two weeks ago," explains Faletau. "He's coming on Wednesday. I can't wait. To have him out here will be amazing, especially with the win last week."

Mako Vunipola, Taulupe Faletau and Billy Vunipola
Mako Vunipola (left) and Taulupe Faletau are both on the current Lions tour. Injury ruled Billy Vunipola (right) out

He laughs and makes a joke that he'd forgotten to mention his girlfriend Charlotte Rhys-Jones, who also happens to be the sister of Real Madrid footballer Gareth Bale's partner.

Mother and son will be in attendance for what will be the biggest game of Faletau's career on Saturday evening; his fourth consecutive test as a Lion and an opportunity to become the first team to win a series in New Zealand since 1971.

"Everyone at the back of their minds knows how big an occasion the match is," he says.

"We've got to be on our game, New Zealand are not double world champions for no reason. I love to challenge myself against that."

The challenge is clearly not one that daunts Faletau who also impressed for Wales against the All Blacks - scoring a try - during the 2016 summer series.

Is there something about the All Blacks that helps him raise his game?

"That's a good question. But it hasn't brought out the best in me yet. Hopefully."

For a man of so few words, we'll settle for that.

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