Having sustained a knee ligament injury in December, Wales and Lions number eight Taulupe Faletau is back in action for club Bath this weekend as they take on Sale Sharks at the Rec.
While Warren Gatland has been keeping a close eye on Faletau’s return, he was released back to his club from Wales this week in order to gain some valuable game time.
Bath’s Director of Rugby Todd Blackadder one of those happiest to see him arrive.
“It’s fantastic to have Taulupe back in the mix. We’re just so pleased that Wales have released him back to us so that he can get some game time. It shows that we’ve got a good relationship and it will be a good boost for the squad.”
Where the Aviva Premiership is concerned, the club’s success rate is 67% with the Welsh international in the team it drops to 44% when he is absent.
“He’s been massive for us, when he’s on the park he shows he’s a Lion. He’s one of our best players.
“It’s great for the squad, having a guy like him back has been a massive boost already. He got a big cheer when he walked back into training this morning and he trained really well. He’ll definitely be starting at the weekend.”
Bath are without over 20 squad members largely due to injury but also through international call-ups.
Both Freddie Burns and Matt Garvey went off in the disconsolate loss to Newcastle Falcons with Burns facing a fitness race to shake off a sprain and Garvey similarly unable to train until late this week.
It could see Bath needing to call on their third-choice fly-half, 20-year-old Josh Lewis to make his league debut ahead of his move to the Dragons next season.
“I’d love to get some game time in. Obviously if Freddie’s fit, then he’s gonna play in front of me. I’m from a small town in the valleys, so to come up to Bath and potentially get my first Aviva Premiership start at the weekend, it’s going to be a proud moment for me and the family as well.”
Considering Bath’s injury crisis, the challenge for the coaches is to keep the players motivated to improve, given there is less pressure on positions.
The congested league table may do just that, given that victory against Sale on Saturday could push Bath into fourth but a loss could see them drop into eighth, as Blackadder acknowledges.
“That’s the fine line. We only lost to Gloucester by one point, we were in control and lost to Newcastle at home.
“That’s eight points right there. You want to be in a position to battle for silverware, otherwise why do what you do?”