La Rochelle’s Aussie giant is one big reason to break the law, says Paul Williams
Given the similarity of his surname, it is almost poetic that Australia’s Will Skelton is the opposite of skeletal. What’s less poetic, is that one of the best locks – one of the best players – in the world may not even make it to the Rugby World Cup.
Which would be to the detriment of Australia and the tournament.
Will Skelton’s performance in the Champions Cup final was industrious to the point where he almost qualified as his own industrial sector.
His carrying was incredible. With 12, he carried more than any of Leinster’s pack and at times looked like he was playing age-grade rugby.
How many players are there in the world, who can walk over the gain-line with three defenders draped over their body, like some weird costume from the House of Lords? Whenever La Rochelle needed front-foot ball, they passed to the man with the size 19s. But it wasn’t just the carrying that stood out. So did his lineout jumping. Throughout the season, La Rochelle had primarily used Skeleton as a lifter, which makes sense when you consider that he’s heavier than gravity.
But against Leinster he was used as a primary jumper and it was incredibly effective. But without doubt, the most impressive part of his performance was that he did it for 80 minutes. Yup, that’s right, the player who is supposedly not fit enough for Test rugby, dominated for 80 minutes.
Some would argue that Test rugby is very different to club, regional or provincial rugby. And they’d be right. But Leinster are essentially 75% of the Ireland team and Ireland are the best test team in the world.
So that argument holds less water than a posh water bottle that’s been through the dishwasher. There may be a slight jump from playing Leinster to playing Ireland, but we’re talking about a jump more akin to an ollie, rather than the mega ramp at the X Games.
Whilst we’ve talked about the elephant on the pitch, let’s get to the elephant in the room. Eddie Jones, as it stands can only take three non domestic playing players to the RWC. That’s Giteau’s law. A law that is designed to encourage Australian players to stay at home and not be swayed by the strength of European money.
But that law needs addressing. South Africa have included 11 overseas players in their initial RWC training squad. And their ability to select all of their global resources has seen them become RWC champions and deliver one of the deepest squads in test match rugby.
Will Australia’s Will Skelton go to the World Cup with the Wallabies?
Australia don’t necessarily have to go to that extreme, but they do need to be more flexible. In fact, Giteau’s law could arguably do with becoming as flexible as Giteau was as a player.
If Giteau could play four to five positions at test level, which he could (9, 10, 12, 13 and 15 at a push) then the Australian national team should be able to select four to five players, who don’t currently play in Australia, for the Rugby World Cup.
From a northern hemisphere perspective, this notion that Skelton wouldn’t be one of the three is understandable to a point (the Wallabies are thin on the ground when it comes to tens, hence Cooper’s probable inclusion), but perplexing at the same time.
It may be that with playing in France, Skelton is out of sight, out of mind, to the Australian public. Which is ironic given that you’d need an A380 hanger to keep him hidden properly.
The decision not to take him would be decidedly short-sighted given the nature of Test rugby at the moment – in which scrums and mauls are king and queen.
If you haven’t got a scrum, you concede penalties. Which with an accurate kick to touch, those penalties quickly turn into lineout mauls. If you haven’t got a lineout maul or a lineout maul defence you can forget winning, as you’ll not only probably concede tries, but likely pick up more cards than the floor sweeper at Hallmark.
Both scrum and maul benefit from mass and if you’ve ever met Australia’s Will Skelton, he’s got more mass than a collapsing black hole.
I shook hands with him once – it looked like one of those photos of a baby grabbing his father’s thumb for the first time.
But perhaps hope is not lost. Rugby Australia is in a reforming mood, and it is showing on their balance sheet. In a rugby landscape where cash is in short supply, Rugby Australia reported a surplus of $8m.
Ask any union up north if they’ve got a cash surplus and they’ll answer you as soon as they get back from the pawnbrokers.
Now is the time for Australian rugby to make one more reform and tweak Giteau’s law. Select five overseas players and make one of them Skelton. You could even call it Australia’s Skelton law for good measure.
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