Second-rower Will Skelton is “only going to get better” as he learns to get the most out of his giant frame, says Waratahs coach Michael Cheika.
Usually the 145-kilogram unit in a side can reasonably expect to be replaced at some point early in the second half when the coach names a forward-heavy 6-2 bench for a clash with the most mobile team in the competition.
But Skelton knew there was no way but through the pain when he watched his captain, Dave Dennis, make the final interchange with Mitchell Chapman in the 65th minute on Saturday night.
“It’s an unsaid rule that you want to finish the game,” he said.
“‘Cheik’ knows when I’m blowing and when he wants to pull me off. At the 65-minute mark I was pretty buggered … you just take a deep breath and move on to the next task. Mentally you get that second wind and you play with that edge for the next 15 minutes or however long it is. I was very pleased to finish the game off and to get 80 again at a high intensity is what I’m looking for each week.”
Cheika said he knew his 22-year-old ball carrier was good for it no matter what the Hurricanes asked of him in defence.
“He makes me have faith in him by the way he trains and the way he plays,” he said. “You see the way he prepares and what he does, and if he can keep learning that he’s only going to get better.
“It’s a mindset, and look at the way he played – in a game where there was a lot of ball movement and a lot required from inside defenders in particular. You’ve got to keep working, you can’t knock off at all. Our scrum was good as well, and he’s a big reason for that too.
Skelton has long promised the mix of athleticism and impact his frame and footwork can surprisingly deliver, and there is every reason to hope the 2.04-metre giant is coming on song for both his province and his country in this important World Cup year.
He may have fallen on to his maiden Super Rugby try – “the laziest try you’ll see” – but there is no question that every 80-minute performance the Waratahs get out of Skelton is a potential win for the Wallabies.
“I’m a young guy, this is just my [third] season playing and I love being out there for my team, my family and my state,” he said.
The Waratahs fly home after proving their best is still out there. The pack produced its most cohesive and abrasive performance of the season to give Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps the breathing space they had been lacking, with Dennis and No.8 Wycliff Palu making it clear they have ripened with age.
“It was pretty simple, we just ran harder than we have in the past weeks,” Skelton said. “For me personally I just made a focus to get a bit deeper and run onto it, and I found some holes … but it’s a credit to the other boys who set the platform.”
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