Skelton's progress a weighty matter for Wallabies

Reuters

By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - When Will Skelton, all 137-kgs of him, rumbled over France flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo to score a try in a sparkling test debut in June, it looked like the 22-year-old lock was going to be a Wallabies fixture for some time to come.

For the last two Rugby Championship tests, though, he has failed to even make the bench and that exile continued on Wednesday when he was omitted from the squad for the last two matches of the competition in South Africa and Argentina.

While coach Ewen McKenzie has 10 forwards unavailable to him through injury, Skelton's absence for what will be two titanic battles against hulking packs is a matter of choice.

For although Skelton's contributions tend to be eye-catching, the Wallabies coach said, he is far from the finished article.

"Will's a young guy and we threw him in at the deep end a bit against France to see where he was up to," he told reporters in a teleconference on Wednesday.

"He's a guy we like, he's got a lot of character, he adds a lot to the group but he's still a young player.

"So he doesn't tick every box and we've been working on various skills.

"There's a multitude of things you need to cover. The lineout is an important area of the game, we have to get possession, the scrum's another important sector of the game, we've seen that in the last few weeks."

A juggernaut with ball in hand, a forceful presence at ruck and maul and with the soft hands of a flyhalf in the pass, Skelton looked to have everything required to play at the very top level.

A stellar title-winning season with the New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby, where he alternated with South Africa's Jacques Potgieter as starter and impact replacement, put him on McKenzie's radar.

But being an impact player meant his playing time was often limited to 20-minute bursts and his fitness has suffered, McKenzie said.

"Part of it is just basic match fitness, he hasn't been getting a lot of time on the pitch," he said.

"If you look at the way we've been playing, we cover a lot of territory and that is physically challenging. The cameo bits can be important but we have people doing that who have different skills as well."

In order to improve his fitness, McKenzie wants Skelton to make full use of the opportunities created by Australia's National Rugby Championship, which is in its inaugural season.

"We pretty much decided the best thing for him at the moment is to play," he said. "The best way to learn is to play rather than sit on the edge and not play any games.

"That's going to help him with his match fitness as well, and that's going to help bring him along."

As well as making him a daunting opponent, Skelton's size mean he needs to be extra careful with his conditioning, McKenzie said.

"He's just a huge guy and he's still growing but he needs to learn to control his condition.

"Because the game is aerobic, it needs skill, it needs power, it needs condition.

"He's got a bigger challenge because he's just a massive guy."


(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)