Taulupe Faletau is in line to make a Test return, despite playing less than an hour of competitive rugby in 12 weeks. The Bath No8 is on course to be involved when Wales complete their autumn series against South Africa on Saturday.
Faletau suffered a knee injury on his Bath debut against Northampton in early September. He was sidelined until last Friday’s match with Bristol – when he played for 55 minutes – and missed Wales’s matches against Australia, Argentina and Japan.
The 26-year-old could start against the Springboks, which would probably mean Ross Moriarty switching to blindside flanker alongside Faletau and the captain, Sam Warburton, in the back row. Alternatively Rob Howley, who names his lineup on Thursday, may decide to use Faletau off the bench, using Warburton at blindside with Justin Tipuric reclaiming the No7 shirt after missing the 33-30 victory over Japan.
The Wales assistant coach, Neil Jenkins, said: “I think Toby Faletau is just a ridiculously good rugby player. Watching him in training, he looks like he hasn’t been out. He is a class act, a world-class No8 , one of the best on the planet. For us to have him fit and back in the mix and back training is a fantastic addition to our squad.”
Wales have beaten South Africa only twice in 31 attempts – in 1999 and 2014 – but they face a Springboks side reeling after suffering seven defeats this year, with their last game a 20-18 loss to Italy.
“South Africa do play a certain brand of rugby – an intimidating and physical brand of rugby – and I have no doubt they will come with that on Saturday,” Jenkins said. “They will try to outmuscle us, there is no doubting that and I think they will come route one. We’ve got to be ready – physically and mentally – and make sure we impose our game on them.”
A Wales triumph would give them three autumn victories for the first time since 2002 when they toppled Romania, Fiji and Canada.
The Springboks assistant coach, Matt Proudfoot, said: “We are looking first for improvements in execution. The players’ natural response will be to make a statement, but we need to make sure we focus on execution and skills.
“We feel we can put Wales under pressure in a couple of areas, and we will be focusing on those. But we need to improve. They’ve got some good leadership in their pack, and it will be interesting to see if Faletau starts. He’s got a lot of experience and Warburton is a world-class player.
“We just focus on the challenge. What has happened before doesn’t matter. They are a side that is well coached, they’re experienced, they’ve got a very settled backline. We are expecting a tough challenge.”