Six Nations 2016: England, Wales and the pride of Pontypool

Taulupe Faletau
Taulupe Faletau will leave Newport Gwent Dragons to join Bath at the end of the season
Six Nations: England v Wales
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 12 March Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on S4C and ITV, commentary on BBC Radio 5 live & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

The last time Wales won back-to-back games at Twickenham there were three famous players from Pontypool involved.

The same will be true when Warren Gatland's team try to emulate John Dawes' class of 1978 - except this time they will not all be wearing red.

For Price, Windsor and Faulkner - the famous Pontypool front row - read Vunipola and Faletau. Billy and Mako - the Vunipolas - for England, Taulupe Faletau for Wales.

Three sons of Tongan rugby internationals who honed their skills not at Pontypool Park but on a patch of grass in the Vunipolas' back garden in the Gwent valley town.

The match-up between opposing number eights Billy Vunipola and Faletau was the talk of the build-up to this potential Six Nations title decider until England coach Eddie Jones deflected attention onto the front rows.

Good times

But it is a fascinating confrontation, given the shared background.

"We'd be together most weekends, especially when we were living in Pontypool," remembered Faletau.

Mako Vunipola, Taulupe Faletau and Billy Vunipola
Mako Vunipola, Taulupe Faletau and Billy Vunipola are all involved in the England v Wales game

"Most of the mini games we used to have were in Billy and Mako's back garden, so we used to line up Billy and my brother Josh, and me and Mako.

"And we'd spend our time playing rugby out there.

"We've gone back and driven past it a few times and to see the little patch of grass that we used to play on, I can't imagine half the stuff that we did on there.

"Thinking back I used to think it was pretty big, but going back there now I realise how small it was.

"It was always good times. I reckon we won most of the games."

Together stronger

All three played schools rugby for East Wales against West Wales, but fate and parental job prospects dictated that they would not play senior international rugby together.

The Vunipolas moved to Bristol when their mother took up a new job in the Methodist church, and so the two brothers entered the English system.

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Faletau v Vunipola

Faletau was given a professional contract by Newport Gwent Dragons and established himself as Wales' number eight during the 2011 World Cup.

He is Wales' top tackler in the 2016 Six Nations and Billy Vunipola is England's top ball carrier.

It seems inevitable the two will meet head-on at some time in Twickenham.

"He's been outstanding, probably their best player and he leads from the front," Faletau said of Billy.

"I guess it's not a surprise if people talk about us facing each other.

"But on the field it's just a game of rugby. You don't think about who's opposite you until afterwards."

The quietly spoken Faletau, who joins Bath next season, was going to "catch up" with his cousins before the game and does so regularly on social media.

Family ties

Which brings us to the question of family.

It is widely reported that Faletau and the Vunipolas are cousins.

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England v Wales preview

Asked how they are related, Faletau chuckles: "To be honest I'm not sure."

"But our mothers are related and because we've been so close since growing up, we're still very close."

Billy and Taulupe are likely to get very close indeed on the pitch at Twickenham - an area of grass rather larger than the one in Pontypool where they first pitted their skills and power against each other.

The stakes are high with a Triple Crown and potential Grand Slam on the line for England and the chance a fourth Six Nations title in nine years for Wales - but whatever happens, there will be one happy family gathering after the match.

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