Skelton emerges as surprise Rugby World Cup contender

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Will Skelton has emerged as a surprise contender for the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign with Saracens saying they’re resigned to losing the second rower for the international tournament.

Lock Skelton has been hugely influential for European champions Saracens this season and despite agreeing to a new deal with the English powerhouses just months ago, there could be an arrangement in the works to bring him back into the Wallabies field.

It is believed the mammoth lock could follow in the footsteps of halfback Nic White signing a deal with Australian rugby in 2020 and potentially returning to Super Rugby in 2021.

A deal like that making him eligible to play Test rugby, returning to Saracens for the northern hemisphere season before returning to Australia.

Any move back to Australia would involve a significant pay cut for Skelton, whose market value would be as high as its ever been after he took out the club's Players' Player award for the season.

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said he would welcome the return of Skelton to the national side.

Will Skelton. Photo: Getty Images“He's a massive unit,” he said.

“He's a unique person in that someone that big can be on the footy field and he can turn a game.

“Been plenty of games where he's turned it through his size.

“That's always been the hard thing for him around being mobile enough to get the repeat efforts.

“From the game I saw in the European Cup final, he was amazing. A lot of repeat involvements so he's playing good rugby.”

Skelton has shed more than 20kg since moving to England, adding valuable athleticism to his size, and Hooper said that could make his former NSW teammate even more intimidating.

“He's a massive unit,” he said.

‘He's a unique person in that someone that big can be on the footy field and he can turn a game.

“Been plenty of games where he's turned it through his size.

“That's always been the hard thing for him around being mobile enough to get the repeat efforts.

“From the game I saw in the European Cup final, he was amazing - a  lot of repeat involvements so he's playing good rugby.”

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said earlier that he expected the Wallabies to come for Skelton, despite him signing a new two-year contract.

McCall said Skelton had expressed a desire to play for Australia, though the club hasn’t been in formal talks with the Wallabies.

"Will has spoken to me about it," Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said of the club's players' player of the year winner on Tuesday.

"He is keen to play in the World Cup, but he is also keen to play for Saracens, which is quite complex.

"There hasn't been much contact from Australia but I think there will be and we want our players to play in the World Cup.

"For that to happen he probably has to sign longer term there, which is not what we want but if that is what Will decides, that is what he decides.

"Nic White has some arrangement. We haven't been approached yet, but you'd imagine that might suggest something like that."

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is currently in Europe, featuring in Leinster’s 2009 Champions Cup 10-year anniversary celebration, and though he hadn't initially planned to catch up with Skelton, he might yet meet with his former charge.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said having Skelton in the World Cup frame could only be a good thing for Australian rugby but was coy about whether NSW would be interested in signing him.

“Certainly, from all accounts Will's performed very well overseas and I think for Australia, having guys in the selection mix is important,” he said.

“Building that depth and building the competition more importantly.

“One of the things we bemoan in Australia is the number of guys who are playing overseas and whether the debate about having those guys available to us would certainly help our depth."