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Skelton still in WC contention

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Will Skelton still in World Cup contention despite new Saracens contract

Ex-Wallabies lock Will Skelton could still yet line up for Australia at this year’s World Cup in Japan, despite having signed a two-year contract extension with English Premiership club Saracens earlier this month.

The 27-year-old has been in spectacular form of the London-based side this year, playing a significant role in their European Champions Cup title success against Leinster three weeks ago, as well as their run to a second successive Premiership final, where they will face the Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham on Saturday.

Since joining Saracens from the Waratahs in Super Rugby at the end of 2017, Skelton has shed 21kg in 18 months, allowing him to utilise his 2.03m, 119kg frame to full effect, resulting in a higher work rate and a more explosive on-field impact.

His form has been so good that head coach Mark McCall has been forced to shift star England second rower Maro Itoje to blindside flanker in order to accomodate Skelton in the starting lineup.

His improved physique and form hasn’t gone unnoticed by his former Waratahs and current Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika, who is believed to be pursuing his former player to bolster his second row stocks for the World Cup.

Already without controversial fullback Israel Folau, and with the pending availability of flanker David Pocock, who continues to battle a rare calf injury, the Wallabies are lacking star power within their national side, so the acquisition of Skelton would be vital.

However, with only 18 test caps to his name, Skelton is ineligible for a call-up to the Wallabies while playing for Saracens, as he hasn’t met the 60-test threshold required for overseas-based players to represent Australia.

In order to play at this year’s World Cup, Skelton would need to sign a deal with an Australian Super Rugby franchise to ensure his playing future lies in Australia.

Exeter halfback Nic White was faced with the same predicament earlier this season, but by signing for an Australian side in the 2020 Super Rugby campaign, he has made himself eligible for World Cup selection.

McCall wants his star lock to stay onboard with Saracens in the British capital, but admits he cannot and will not stand in the way of Skelton should he decide to cut his current contract to return to Australia.

“Will has spoken to me about it,” McCall told AAP.

“He is keen to play in the World Cup, but he is also keen to play for Saracens, which is quite complex.

“There hasn’t been much contact from Australia, but I think there will be and we want our players to play in the World Cup.

“For that to happen he probably has to sign longer term there, which is not what we want but if that is what Will decides, that is what he decides.”

Saracens teammate Iotje has been in awe of Skelton throughout this season, but said that should the pair be pitted against each other on the international stage, there would be no mercy between the two.

“When I see him play and I see him carrying and I see him hit people, I am happy he is on my side rather than the opposition,” Itoje said.

“I’ve played against him before and that was when he wasn’t in this type of shape. Even then he was a big deal to deal with. Now he has had a huge impact on the whole squad.

“He is in great form, he is truly in great form. But if he is playing for the Wallabies, unfortunately he will have to get chopped down like the rest of them.”

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Will Skelton still in World Cup contention despite new Saracens contract