6N: Moriarty keeping Faletau from Wales start vs Scotland
Even Taulupe Faletau accepts the obvious. Wales’ most reliable rugby player for the last six years isn’t playing as well as Ross Moriarty.
Faletau’s season has been hampered twice by ligament injuries in the left knee. His absence for Wales has been capitalized on by Moriarty, who was the starting No. 8 through the November tests, and remains there into the third round of the Six Nations this weekend.
For the second match in a row, Moriarty starts and Faletau is in the reserves for the game on Saturday against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Faletau, who has started 61 of his 64 tests, played his first full club game only last weekend, and interim Wales coach Rob Howley kept Moriarty together with flankers Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric.
”Ross is playing really well at the moment, and so are the other two,” he says. ”We work for each other, and whoever plays is worthy of playing and, to be honest, those three right now are playing really well.”
Howley says Moriarty deserved another start after his eye-catching effort in the last round against England in Cardiff. Wales lost 21-16 but not while Moriarty was playing. He had 10 carries, 10 tackles and one turnover.
”He has shown deft skill, great work rate, and emptied the tank against England if you look at the GPS data,” Howley says.
”We’ve got four world-class back-rows there, and it is genuinely a great headache to have, to have a world-class player on the bench.”
Moriarty helped England Under-20s win the junior world championship in 2013 but while he’s England-born, he was raised in Swansea. He committed to Wales because his father Paul and uncle Richard played for Wales in the 1980s.
After enduring the All Blacks three times in New Zealand last June, he says he’s not fazed by anything. Remarkably, he’s a blindside flanker for his Gloucester club and playing out of position for Wales. And yet he’s in the conversation for the British and Irish Lions tour.
Howley has been ridiculed since the England test for removing Moriarty with both props in the 53rd minute when Wales was leading 13-8. But Howley says Moriarty was beginning to tire, and the coach deflected the blame on the reserves for not stepping up.
”Players coming on have to make a better impact than they did against England,” Howley says.
Defence coach Shaun Edwards, earlier in the week, didn’t blame the reserves when he explained how Wales conceded England’s late match-winning try. Up 16-14 with five to go, Wales regained possession in front of its tryline. But Jonathan Davies’ clearance didn’t go out, England countered, and Elliot Daly got on the outside of the defence to score.
Edwards said Wales failed to play two rucks to give the backs a chance to reorganize defensively. Instead, after one ruck, Davies received the ball and the kick-chase wasn’t ready.
Wales chase a 10th straight win over Scotland on Saturday to stay in the title hunt.
Scotland’s hopes have dropped since the tournament-ending injuries to captain Greig Laidlaw and No. 8 Josh Strauss in the narrow loss to France. Winger Sean Maitland is also out with a rib injury, but Laidlaw is the biggest blow. As the leader, scrumhalf and goalkicker, his value is priceless. But coach Vern Cotter remains upbeat: ”We’re still right in the mix,” he says.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Alistair Price; Ryan Wilson, John Hardie, John Barclay (captain), Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Allan Dell, Ross Ford, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, Hamish Watson, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Jake Ball, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens, Rob Evans. Reserves: Scott Baldwin, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris, Taulupe Faletau, Gareth Davies, Sam Davies, Jamie Roberts.