FOR all the talk about competition for places and squad depth like never before, plenty of names could already be inked in on the first World Cup line-up that Wales team manager Alan Phillips will hand in at Toyota Stadium.

Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Jonathan Davies; all will start against Georgia as long as they make it through to Monday, September 23 unscathed.

Two years ago it would have been unthinkable for Taulupe Faletau not to also be put straight in at number eight, let alone be mentioned as being one of those with work to do ahead of Warren Gatland's announcement of his 31 players for Japan 2019.

There have been murmurs that the 28-year-old still isn't secure as one of five back rowers in the squad.

That is hard to believe – Faletau is vital if Wales are to go all the way to the final game of the tournament on November 2.

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It is injury misfortune, not talent, application or attitude that has disrupted the Pontypool-raised forward's Test career.

A player who was so durable at the Dragons has been so unlucky Bath.

After making his professional debut for the Rodney Parade region on November 1, 2009 in a memorable win in the Edinburgh rain at Murrayfield, Faletau amassed 110 appearances over seven seasons.

His commitment to the Dragons' cause was total – this was not a man saving himself for the red of Wales despite consistently featuring in a struggling side.

Before moving to the Rec, the number eight played 110 of a 203 club games (a figure including those while he was on international duty), won 61 caps for Wales since his debut against the Barbarians in 2011 and one for the Lions in the 2013 series decider against Australia.

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He headed to the west country in 2016 as the Dragons' greatest ever player, as a world-class forward and with his status as one of Wales' finest ever players secure.

Faletau has continued to excel with the Blue, Black and Whites, making 30 outings in his first two seasons, winning 11 more Wales caps and being a key figure in all three Tests for the Lions in New Zealand.

However, the player who was so indestructible for the Dragons has been unable to string together a consistent run of games for Bath with a series of knee ligament injuries and then last season's write-off.

Faletau suffered a broken forearm in his fifth Premiership game of the campaign against Exeter in October and then endured the same injury on his comeback against Wasps in the Champions Cup.

That misfortune has at least answered the worrying question before the move over the border – 'how will Wales cope without Faletau?'.

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In the 2017 Six Nations he was forced to play the role of impact sub while Ross Moriarty joined forced with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric.

Last season he watched on while a Grand Slam was secured by Moriarty, Tipuric, Josh Navidi and rising Dragons star Aaron Wainwright, who hadn't taken up rugby when Faletau was plying his trade at Rodney Parade.

The balance was superb in the Six Nations and the run of 14 successive Test victories shows that Wales, who have climbed to second in the world rankings, are genuine contenders for the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Warren Gatland's men have proved that they can cope without Faletau but the number eight transforms them – he remains a talent that should force the management to consider whether it is Moriarty or Navidi that wears 6.

Faletau is a man that Wales can depend on, a superstar with the ability to thrive in an open game but also to do the dirty work.

He has a fast feet, a faster brain, the ball skills of a back, rarely misses a tackle, can slug it out with the big units and has grown as a leader in his understated manner.

This is a man who puts in stupendous displays himself but also has the ability to put in graft that makes those around him look better.

Faletau more than any other player will be watched closely as Paul Stridgeon and the conditioning coaches put them through a gruelling programme before Gatland's announcement.

But it would surely take another knock for the Lion to be left out of the squad, an omission that put the surprise early 2015 axing of the experienced Mike Phillips, Richard Hibbard and James Hook well and truly in the shade.

Wales are no longer reliant on Faletau's fitness and Gatland can take comfort from the performances of the other back rowers.

But if it comes to the last eight, semi-finals and final, the boss knows that Faletau is his man for the biggest of occasions.

Wales have a golden shot at glory in Japan but a fit and firing Faletau gives their rivals even more reason to be fearful.He was immense in New Zealand in 2011 and inspired in England four years ago, especially in the comeback win against the hosts at Twickenham.

Come September, October and hopefully November, expect Faletau to be among the first names that Gatland jots down in his XV. The rest of the talented back rowers can fit in around him.