Taulupe Faletau set to make Wales return against Springboks

Powerful number eight has played just 55 minutes of domestic rugby since knee injury

Taulupe Faletau looks set to make a Test match return on Saturday — despite playing less than an hour of competitive rugby in 12 weeks.

The Bath number eight appears on course to be involved when Wales complete their autumn series by tackling South Africa in Cardiff.

Faletau suffered a knee ligament injury on his Bath debut against Aviva Premiership opponents Northampton in early September.

He was sidelined until last Friday’s appointment with Bristol, when he featured for 55 minutes, which meant him missing Wales’ November appointments with Australia, Argentina and Japan.

But the 26-year-old could even start against the Springboks, which would probably mean Gloucester's in-form Ross Moriarty switching to blindside flanker alongside Faletau and skipper Sam Warburton in the back-row.

Alternatively, Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley, who names his line-up on Thursday, might decide to use Faletau off the bench, using Warburton at blindside and Justin Tipuric reclaiming the number seven shirt after missing last weekend's 33-30 victory over Japan.

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 (injured). He is a class act, a world-class number eight, 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 only beaten South Africa twice in 31 attempts — in 1999 and 2014 — but they face a Springboks side reeling from suffering seven defeats this year, with their last game being 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 added.

“Physically, they will try to outmuscle us on Saturday, there is no doubting that, and I think they will come route one.

“We’ve got to be ready — physically and mentally — for that and make sure we impose our game on them.”

Despite their impressive record against Wales, South Africa will probably start as underdogs on Saturday, while a Welsh triumph would give them three autumn victories for the first time since 2002 when they toppled Romania, Fiji and Canada.

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 them (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 at the weekend. What has happened before doesn’t matter.

“They are a side that is well coached, they’re experienced, they’ve got a very settled back-line. We are expecting a tough challenge.”