Wallaby lock Will Skelton has ended speculation about his future by signing a new two-year deal with Saracens that rules him out of the World Cup in Japan unless Australian rugby chiefs relax their current stance.
Skelton joined Saracens in April 2017, on a two-year contract with the lock having previously played for the club on a short term deal before heading back to the Waratahs in Sydney for the Super Rugby season.
The 6ft 8in lock made a positive impression on everyone at the club, although they realised he needed to lose weight. Since his return, Skelton has transformed his shape, shedding two stone and becoming a major force for the defending Premiership champions who face Glasgow Warriors in a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at Allianz Park today.
RugbyPass understands the new contract has already been signed, with Skelton satisfying the club’s demands that if he stayed, international duty was out of the question as he is needed to fill the second row gaps created by England call-ups for Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Nick Isiekwe.
The 26-year-old has won 18 Test caps for the Wallabies and acknowledged when he arrived in 2017 that his test career was on hold saying; “One day I’d love to play for Australia again and if that opportunity comes up I will give everything I’ve got for my country.”
Having made his decision to stay, Skelton is unavailable for the World Cup as the Australian Rugby Union will only pick overseas players if they have 60 caps. However, former Wallaby captain James Horwill wants Australian rugby chiefs to use “creative thinking” to get the giant Saracens lock to Japan. The Gallagher Premiership season will not start until October 20 because of the World Cup which means Saracens could agree to release him for test duty if the ARU change their rules.
Horwill got first-hand experience of how well 6ft 8ins Skelton is playing as his fellow countryman grabbed two tries in a Man-of-the-Match performance in the win over Harlequins at the London Stadium. With the Wallabies currently struggling for form and head coach Michael Cheika under fire, bringing back Australia’s biggest forward could be a timely boost ahead of the World Cup.
Horwill, who has a European Challenge Cup last eight clash with Worcester, wants that to happen and said: “The ARU need to look at a few new options and you would like to see Will at the World Cup because he is playing so well and deserves to be involved. Each individual case is different and careers are getting shorter with guys retiring due to injury so you are probably seeing a thought process which is ‘I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to make a lot of money because it is a finite career’ and so some guys will see it as a way of setting themselves up financially for the rest of their life.
“You cannot criticise players for thinking that way and so you do need to have some more creative thinking around Australia contracting and retaining players. In New Zealand they having more playing depth and are able to deal with it a lot better because each season there are players coming through who you have never heard of before. Suddenly those guys are tearing it up in Super Rugby and so New Zealand have more of a luxury while we in Australia are competing with other sports like AFL and rugby league. Therefore you have to be more creative in rugby union.
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“Will’s conditioning has always been questioned and he was always a big lump who could do a lot of things when he first came onto the scene. He is still tipping the scales at around 135-140 kgs and that says something about how big he was and Saracens have been able to get the best out of him. He doesn’t have to exude too much energy elsewhere on the park and they use his strengths and we saw on Saturday what he can do when he consistently performs.
“He is playing a lot of rugby for Saracens in all competitions and has been a key part of their success.
“Four years ago the ARU created a bit of leeway with the Giteau Rule for the last World Cup to allow players to be included and you want to play your best players at the tournament because it means so much. It is tough for Australia because they want to show loyalty to the guys at home and don’t want to open the floodgates because the financial restrictions the ARU have are quite well publicised. They are struggling with the financial offers over here in Europe.”
In other news: Premiership club after Cheika
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