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Influential Wallabies captain yet to reach peak of powers

By AAP
Will Skelton of the Wallabies embraces Jordan Petaia of the Wallabies after losing the The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the Australia Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Will Skelton is racing the clock to lead the wounded Wallabies in their final pool match against Portugal but coach Eddie Jones is hoping it’s not the last World Cup for the giant lock.

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Skelton has an unhappy World Cup history, with both his 2015 campaign and the current France tournament wrecked by injury.

Eight years ago, playing in Birmingham, Skelton suffered a pectoral injury in Australia’s second match against Uruguay and was replaced in the squad.

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This time, the Wallabies captain hurt his calf at training following their opening victory over Georgia.

The loss of the 135kg wrecking ball, as well as heavyweight prop Taniela Tupou with a hamstring injury, derailed Australia’s game plan.

With a lack of size and also experience key factors, the team crashed to record losses against Fiji and Wales to all but end their quarter-final hopes in an unwanted first for the two-time champions.

The 31-year-old has only played 30 Tests, shifting his career overseas after the 2017 Super season and was overlooked for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

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But Skelton has stamped himself as one of the game’s premier locks, playing central roles in multiple domestic and European titles for Saracens and La Rochelle – which is why Jones thinks he has far more rugby in him.

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Skelton himself said he might be too old, but Jones wants to see him at the next World Cup in 2027, hosted by Australia.

He compared him to 34-year-old lock Sam Whitelock, who is set to overtake Richie McCaw as the most capped All Black when they face Italy in Lyon on Friday night (Saturday AEST).

“He’s 31 years of age, so you look at blokes like Whitelock and how well they’re playing at 34-35 and there’s no reason why the next four or five years can’t be the best of Will’s career,” Jones told AAP.

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“He looks really healthy, incredibly healthy – he’s lost at least eight kilograms which he needed to do as he was too heavy.”

Skelton was a left-field choice for World Cup captain but Jones felt it was a no-brainer.

“Will Skelton is the most incredible bloke – he’s never captained a team before but he’s a leader,” he said.

“He plays for Saracens and they win, he plays for La Rochelle and they win.

“You go to those clubs and the player they talk about the most is Will Skelton and that was one of the reasons why I thought he’s going to be the captain for us.”

Team Form

Last 5 Games

4
Wins
2
4
Streak
1
18
Tries Scored
12
14
Points Difference
-137
3/5
First Try
2/5
2/5
First Points
1/5
4/5
Race To 10 Points
0/5

Following their 40-6 thrashing by Wales Skelton said he was working hard with the team medics to be right for the Portugal clash in Saint-Etienne this Sunday (Monday AEST), with Australia desperate to salvage something from a tournament to forget.

“I’m in a tough position, being injured I’m on my own sort of rehab journey, but I’ve got to be around the boys a lot more in my messaging and in making sure that we’re united and connected this week,” Skelton said.

“It takes a day or two emotionally to get back after a loss like that as it’s still quite raw but we will build the week into a performance that we can be proud of.”

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