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Australia insist there are 'no mind games' as Skelton still a chance

By AAP
Will Skelton of Australia looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Georgia at Stade de France on September 09, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Wallabies insist they haven’t made a final call on injured captain Will Skelton for their Rugby World Cup clash with Fiji even though the giant lock was missing from their final training session ahead of the pivotal game.

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The Australians filed into Saint-Etienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Saturday for their captain’s run and their official team photo with no sign of Skelton.

He suffered a calf issue at training on Wednesday and was sent for scans with Wallabies assistant coach Dan Palmer saying that despite Skelton’s absence a final decision won’t be made until just before kick off on Sunday (Monday AEST).

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“We are giving Will (Skelton) as much time as possible to get ready for the game so he’s in treatment, he’s working with the physios at the moment so we’ll give him to the last minute to be ready,” Palmer said.

“Absolutely (he’s a chance to play) … there’s no mind games, we’re just giving him as long as possible to get ready as he’s an important part of our team and we’re prepared to do that.

“It’s only a minor strain hence why he’s still in the mix.”

During the team photo, lock Richie Arnold, who was named on the bench, wore a starting jersey while Matt Philip had the No.19 on his back in an indication he will now have a role in the match-day 23.

Head-to-Head

Last 3 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
0
Wins
1
Average Points scored
30
19
First try wins
67%
Home team wins
67%

Veteran centre Samu Kerevi and Dave Porecki sat either side of coach Eddie Jones, with Palmer confirming the hooker will take over the captaincy if Skelton doesn’t play.

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It’s a massive blow to lose Skelton for their biggest game of the year, with the Wallabies all but guaranteed a quarter-final berth with a win over Fiji.

They’ve never lost to Fiji at a World Cup, with the last defeat coming in Sydney in 1954.

The Pacific Islanders fell to pool rivals Wales in a first-round thriller.

Australia will already be without spearhead prop Taniela Tupou due to a hamstring injury and first-choice halfback and vice-captain Tate McDermott after a head knock.

With a joint weight of around 270kg, the loss of Skelton and Tupou would dent the Wallabies’ plans to dominate Fiji at set pieces as they did against the Georgians.

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James Slipper has replaced Tupou at tighthead, following George Gregan and Adam Ashley-Cooper as one of three Wallabies to play in four World Cups.

Slipper, 34, missed their opening game win over Georgia due to a foot injury and said he was excited to suit up again.

“I’m really confident my body at the moment as I’ve played a lot of rugby this year,” Slipper said.

“I have only missed the last two Tests so I get to get the opportunity to lace up this weekend and I’m 100 per cent ready to go.

“I’m excited to be out there putting on the jersey again as it’s something I really take a lot of pride in.”

Slipper led the Wallabies last year in the absence of Michael Hooper and then the pair were co-captains until Jones opted for Skelton for the World Cup.

He backed NSW Waratahs rake Porecki to handle the role if required.

“Given the opportunity, Dave will be superb,” Slipper said.

“He leads by example, but he’s just one of those players who’s really measured really calm, composed.

“He’s got the respect from the boys so if he’s given the chance he will do really well.”

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