Australian rugby news 2021 Wallabies spring tour Will Skelton

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First it was Quade Cooper, then Samu Kerevi and soon it’s to be Will Skelton, Rory Arnold and Tolu Latu.

No matter where you stand on the selection of overseas players for the Wallabies their impact is undeniable.

The injection of Skelton, in particular, during the Spring Tour will be fascinating.

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In 18 Test matches for Australia between 2014 and 2016 the potential was obvious.

At 2.07m and 148kg Will was one of the biggest bodies in professional rugby.

He teased us with a dominant performance here and flashes of brilliance there.

They were hints of a future to match his enormous frame but world class output week after week, the thing Australian rugby desperately needed, proved elusive.

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The giant lock copped criticism for his fitness and work ethic.

Some of it deserved, most of it not.

The decision to head overseas was for a new challenge but Skelton’s critics said he was done.

Some speculated he was taking the easy way out.

He was heading offshore to cash up and must have been content with just a handful of Tests and not reaching his potential.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

When Skelton arrived at Saracens in London in 2017 something changed.

“He came in initially for a bit of injury cover,” says Kevin Sorrell, a veteran of 195 games for Saracens and now the club’s attack coach.

“He was a good fit for the club in terms of his personality.

“He and (wife) Kate really bought in to everything we were trying to do here.

“Will’s obviously got a natural gift in terms of size but Mark McCall (head coach) and Phil Morrow (performance director) basically sat with him and said, ‘look we feel like you’ve always been playing with one hand tied behind your back because of your conditioning and your body composition so if we can get that bit right we think you can fly. This is what you’ve done so far, you’ve had a good career and you’re always going to be competitive but imagine, if you were to work hard, get your body right, what you could do.’

“That excited him and he grabbed hold of it. It was a really pivotal moment.”

Sorrell’s seen it all before as a player and a coach.

Players can say they want to make a difference but it’s only when words turn into actions you know they genuinely want change.

With Skelton it was obvious.

“He was all over it and it was a big commitment,” Sorrell said.

“He paid for his own nutritionist and got his body composition right, focused on his conditioning and all of a sudden he was able to do things that he wasn’t previously able to do. A lot of credit has to go to him for his attitude towards it and what he brought.”

Will’s impact on the pitch at Saracens is far better known than the lasting effect he had on the community off the pitch.

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It’s why he’ll always have a special place in ‘Sarries’ history.

“Off the pitch he left a lasting impression,” Sorrell said.

“He was a brilliant fit. There was so much he did, him and Kate, doing stuff for homeless kids at Christmas and putting all these packs together and doing stuff in the community.

“They bought into that side of it massively as well. They’re good people.”

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Skelton and the Wallabies

Sorrell describes the influence a fit and dominant Skelton can have on a team and how it fits perfectly with the style of rugby the Wallabies are trying to play.

“Because of his natural size he’s going to win collisions anyway, so certainly from an attack sense I was talking to him about how to maximise that. So it’s not just winning the collision, it’s the work he does post that. In the tackle and post the tackle. Can he provide a team with quick ball,” he says.

“He’s got a genuine point of difference, and some of the stuff he does you can’t defend it. Two people have to come to him to try to stop him so he attracts defenders. It creates space for everyone else and that’s what makes him so destructive. He’s unique.

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“You’ve got (Taniela) Tupou who’s really explosive and a bit of a ball player as well, so if you’re trying to play fast Will’s going to add to that because of how he gets you going forward. I think he’s going to fit right in.”

At 29, an older and wiser Skelton is now regarded as one of the most dominant players in France’s Top 14.

He moved from Saracens to La Rochelle last year where he now plays at around 125kg.

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The hard work, along with the improved fitness, stamina and consistency that brings, has been a gamechanger.

“On the pitch obviously he’s got something unique that not a lot of people can handle and when it’s used right it’s very effective. So instead of using him as a 20 or 30 minute impact player he can influence a game for long periods. It’s huge,” Sorrell says.

“And now you look at what he’s doing in France. He’s ripping up.”

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