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Will Skelton: 'I didn’t want the gig'

By Jon Newcombe
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)

If you ever needed someone with broad shoulders to take the criticism that came the Wallabies’ way post-Rugby World Cup 2023, man-mountain Will Skelton would be that person.

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Not that now departed head coach Eddie Jones chose the hulking forward for that reason as hardly anyone, let alone the cock-sure Wallabies coach, would have predicted how badly the two-time previous winners would perform in France.

Australia crashed out of the tournament at the pool stage for the first time ever in what was a chastening first experience as Wallabies captain, a job that he never sought in the first place.

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Will Skelton on Eddie Jones’ surprising text | Fresh Starts | RPTV

Will Skelton opens up on how he felt when he first received Eddie Jones’ RWC text. Watch the full episode of Fresh Starts on RugbyPass TV

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Will Skelton on Eddie Jones’ surprising text | Fresh Starts | RPTV

Will Skelton opens up on how he felt when he first received Eddie Jones’ RWC text. Watch the full episode of Fresh Starts on RugbyPass TV

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You can watch Fresh Starts, episode 1, here >>

“It was a shock at first, I didn’t want the gig,” Skelton said whilst in conversation with RugbyPass TV’s Johnny Beattie during an oyster-tasting session on France’s Atlantic coast, near to Skelton’s home in La Rochelle.

“He (Eddie Jones) sent me a text on Tuesday afternoon saying I have got a job for you.

“I’ve heard about the stories about Eddie and his texts, late at night and early morning, and then he gave me a call and he said, ‘mate, I think you are best fit for us to captain the squad heading to France’.

“I spoke to my wife and my family, and I rang him the next day and said, ‘I’ll do it, I don’t want to change who I am or how I play, how I speak, I just want to do it how I do it’.

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“Eddie was all about that, he said, ‘I don’t want you to change anything you’re doing now, I want you to lead us, connect the team and bring us together’, and the rest is history.

“We trained bloody hard under Eddie and the staff there. I thought our squad was ready and we fell short of what we wanted to achieve as a team.”

Controversially Jones left out two Wallaby veterans in Michael Hooper, who has since turned to sevens, and maverick fly-half Quade Cooper.

Was Skelton as shocked by that decision as by the one to make him captain? “Of course. Whenever you leave almost 200 caps at home there’s always going to be questions from within the group, from outside the group. Straight away, I thought those boys were a shoo-in in the squad but like we have said in the past, it is the coach who selects the squad.

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“We had trust in the squad that we had too; we had a good squad, we had a young group but our ambition was right up there.”

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Skelton is closing in on his 32nd birthday but hopes to be a part of new head coach Joe Schmidt’s plans in what he sees as a crucial building period before Australia host the British & Irish Lions in 2025 and then the Men’s Rugby World Cup in 2027.

“My focus is on trying to move on from that (France 2023) and perform well club-wise to get that opportunity again,” said Skelton, who has won 30 caps over nine years.

“With a new coach now as well, everything is a bit up in the air now for me and all I can really control now is home, and for me that’s club footy at La Rochelle.

“I have only heard good things about Joe. His resume speaks for itself. It is exciting to see someone of that calibre to take us forward to be where we want to be.

“He is going to bring a lot of detail to the game which may have been lacking, and it is an exciting time to be an Australian rugby player, to aspire to be in that jersey because it is a fresh start.

“He is coming in with a clean slate and he will select who he wants. That might have been my last Test against Georgia last year!”

Happy to leave the dark winter nights of England behind him four years ago having swapped a trophy-laden spell with Saracens for La Rochelle, the 140kg lock is hoping for a big finish to the season in both the Champions Cup and Top 14.

Ronan O’Gara’s team are back-to-back defending European champions but in the Top 14, where they are fifth in the table and looking good for the play-offs, the title has proved elusive, two runners-up finishes in 2021 and 2023 only adding to the determination within the squad that they need to get over the line this year.

“The Brennus for us is right up there with the Champions Cup. It would mean so much,” said Skelton.

You can watch Fresh Starts, episode 1, here >>

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Abe 2 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

Not a fan of your picks. McReight is good at club level but he is too small for international level and has consistently disappointed there. Better to go for larger guys. Kemeney, Valentini, Hooper, Leota, Samu, Swinton, etc. Aalatoa and Nonga are woeful scrummagers and don’t offer much around the field. Wallabies will not win if the scrum falls to pieces. The fact that Faamissli hasn’t been developed is a tragedy. Need a scrum that doesn’t give away penalties. So looks like a Talakai maybe instead. Best scrummagers need to be selected. McDermott runs the ball too much and doesn’t fit into a structured attack like Schmidts. Gets isolated too often. Ok off the bench late but not for 60 mins. Goal kicking has to be one of the top 3 points for a 10 so that does in Gordon and O’Connor. Be better off going for lynagh on that front. Donaldson and Noah seem to be doing best of the established names. QC a better mentor type guy than OConnor as well if he’s playing. Daugunu has been the most consistent 13 and breaks the line a lot so must be in the squad. Joost has also been good. Richie Arnold playing well for Toulouse and is a preeminent lineout jumper so needs to be in. Latu also playing well for La Rochelle and is better scrummager than the Aussie choices so should be in. The big guy at the Tahs Amataroso I think it is needs to be developed as well. Otherwise the team will be too small. Hodge is a better choice at fullback than Wright. Latter makes too many mistakes. Not sure if Hodge available.

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T
Turlough 6 hours ago
Four Leinster talking points after latest Champions Cup final loss

First of all: hats off to Toulouse an outstanding performance. Duponts kicking was phenomenal. Twice he challenged Keenan with amazing clearances from his 22 in extra time. Result was territory deep in Leinster half in the early part of extra time which lead to 2 penalties and the game. Remember also his two 50:22s? Now to Willis/Dupont. ANY slight isolation by a Leinster player resulted in a turnover penalty. How many turnovers in the Toulouse 22? Leinster’s defense was immense, they had opportunities in attack but they honestly looked like they had not spent enough time passing the ball in the training in the weeks preceding the final. Game management was poor. Toulouse’s scrum had crumbled. At 15-15 Leinster had a scrum advantage in a position that would be kickable for a scrum penalty. Leinster played on and missed a long range drop goal. You MUST take the scrum surely? Win penalty and its a shot at goal to win with time up. No penalty and you can attack and drop goal whatever. The distance from sideline penalties from Byrne was shocking. If you are kicking the line you must get close to that 5 metre line. How many times were Leinster forced to maul from 10-15 metres? Toulouse KNEW Leinster was going to kick and maul and clearly spent considerable training time neutralizing thuis threat. The maul was starting too far out, Toulouse were able to stop the heart of the drive. You must change tack and start kicking for goals. That said it always felt like Toulouse were the potent team on the day with Leinster under pressure and chasing. Even with their backline completely disrupted, Toulouse found a way. 9 Wins in their last 9 finals. Leinster will be there next year. But so will Toulouse/Northhampton etc. A great era of club rugby.

17 Go to comments
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