Deadline looming for Skelton to include himself in World Cup selection mix, says Cheika

Rugby World Cup
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by Beth Newman in Japan

Michael Cheika is still keeping a close eye on Will Skelton just days out from naming his World Cup squad but the Wallabies coach isn't letting his focus shift to the new world no. 1s just down the road.

Cheika pinponted Skelton as a World Cup possibility when the side returned from Auckland last weekend and said again on Tuesday he was still keeping the door open for the mammoth lock to be considered.

Skelton has been in super form for Premiership side Saracens and though it was believed he had agreed to a new two-year deal to stay in London, he would have to pledge his future to an Australian Super Rugby side to be eligible to play his first Test since 2016.

It is unclear whether Skelton’s would be an immediate Super Rugby return or one further down the track, should he decide to come back to Australia and make himself available for the World Cup.

Cheika, speaking at the Foxtel Rugby World Cup launch, said he would be in touch with Skelton this week as the selection panel moved to finalise their 31-man squad.

“We'll talk later on today and probably make some realistic phone calls over there just to get a final opinion and see if he wants to be involved or not," he said.

  SKELTON STILL A WORLD CUP POSSIBILITY

Cheika said he had been in contact with Skelton regularly and spoke to him in recent weeks about his situation.

“I spoke to him about a week or two ago,” he said.

“How many times can you talk about the same thing?

“You ask a question and you get an answer and if you haven't got an answer, you ring back in a week or so and see, 'Have you changed your mind?' or 'Have you made your mind up?

“At the end of the day, mate, I know he's an excellent player and we'd love to have him back but I've been really happy with the progress of the tight five so far this season and he'd add to the competition that would go on in that (department). 

“I think that's really important to note, everyone's got to want to be in it and want to be in it for the right reasons, that's how it's panned out.”

Cheika said Skelton could add plenty of X-factor and some valuable Northern Hemisphere experience to a lock department that has included Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman and Rob Simmons in the Rugby Championship.

Will Skelton has shed some weight and is impressing in the Premiership. Photo: Getty Images“He's an excellent player, he's also performed against a lot of those players we could be meeting along the way a different times,” he said.

“I often find the players that get a bit of that experience come back a bit wealthier and with knowledge. 

“We've seen it definitely I think from Nic White, Matt To'omua  - (Tatafu) Polota-Nau has come back in that range. 

So, I think he's just growing up, he's getting more mature. Football players, they change, some guys they get a lot early, some guys take longer to mature.

“He's starting to get into his sweet spot now. 

While Skelton could be a handy World Cup inclusion, Cheika said he understood the 26-year-old’s choice would be about more than just the Japan tournament.

To be Test eligible, he would have to commit to return to an Australian Super Rugby side and that appears to be the major sticking point in his potential comeback.

“It's not just a decision based on the World Cup and what it is now - that's definitely a by-product -  it's more also about the long-term of where he plays his footy so it's a big decision for him as well”

Will Skelton is staying in England. Photo: Getty ImagesWhile he might be keeping one eye firmly fixed on London-based Skelton, Cheika won’t be letting his gaze linger too far down the road to Wales, where the new world no. 1 team resides.

Australia play Wales in their second Rugby World Cup match, on Sunday September 29 in Tokyo, but Cheika said their September 21 opener against Fiji was their first priority.

“I'm only thinking about one game - Fiji,” he said.

“I'm not trying to do that to say, put off the question or anything like that.

“These tournaments, it's just about thinking about what's in front of you and the minute you think about something else and you don't have 100% focus on that one task and you'll get caught out because this is where everyone's going at their best.

“We've got our preparation match against Samoa but when it comes to the World Cup, there's only one game we're thinking of and that's game one and then we'll deal with game two when that's done.”

The Wallabies announce their Rugby World Cup squad on Friday and Cheika said they would be picking a group with an eye to potentially mixing up their 23 each match.

“So, the line between selection and non-selection, if you have a look at even some of the players who have been left out of the match 23, the line between selection and non-selection's very narrow and that's a good thing because that means there's a lot of competition going on,” he said.

“To really create that competition, which is something I think we've benefitted from this year, it may not be a bad idea to keep that going, if that's what we decide to do.”

The Wallabies open their World Cup campaign on Fiji on Saturday September 21 at the Sapporo Dome.