6N: Wales star Faletau wondered if he could still play rugby

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Taulupe Faletau wondered if he could still play rugby after lengthy spells on the sidelines.

One of the game's most influential forwards is back in Wales colors for the first time in almost two years on Saturday when Italy visit Cardiff to open the Six Nations.

Faletau's 72nd and last appearance for Wales was at the end of the 2018 Six Nations. Last season was wiped out by broken right forearms. The first time laid him low for 13 weeks. He came back too soon and the second break cost him 18 weeks. He was in line for a third Rugby World Cup last year but missed it when he suffered a broken collarbone in an innocuous training incident.

He came back with his Bath club in December, and only three club games were enough to convince new Wales coach Wayne Pivac to recall Faletau, who admits he's not quite 100% fit yet.

Faletau is back at No. 8 in a back row with Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright.

“My first game back (for Bath) ... I was definitely nervous,” Faletau said. “At one point you wonder if you can still play rugby. I am just glad to be out there playing.”

Training at Principality Stadium this week brought on a few nerves, and “I am sure there will be more on Saturday.

“It has been a tough period in my career, (but) with the management I've had I have known how to deal with those situations.”

Missing out on helping Wales win the Six Nations Grand Slam a year ago and reaching the World Cup semifinals was wrenching and bittersweet for Faletau. It made him realize how much he loved rugby, and not to take it for granted.

“When you are away for that length of time, I guess I will look forward to it more,” he said.

"Running out in front of that crowd is amazing, and there is no place like the Principality Stadium.

“I've been away for a while, and more now than ever I will try to make the most of the times I do get to play.”

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