Australia v France, 3rd Test
Skelton's skills not size caught McKenzie's eye
ESPN Staff
June 18, 2014
Will Skelton's size makes him an imposing figure, but it was his skill's not size that caught McKenzie's eye © Getty Images

For Will Skelton it wasn't his imposing size that caught Ewen McKenzie's eye, but "his skills touches and the ability to know when to take the line on" that the Wallabies coach said inspired him to select the Waratahs second-rower for his Test debut in the starting side to play France in Sydney on Saturday afternoon.

Skelton replaces 2011 World Cup captain James Horwill as the Wallabies target a clean sweep over France, but McKenzie admits that Skelton's Test debut is more about breaking the All Blacks stranglehold on the Bledisloe Cup. With the Bledisloe and Rugby Championship to worry about, McKenize is hoping Skelton's vision and soft hands can provide the X-factor the Wallabies need to end the All Blacks 12-year trans-Tasman dominance.

"Everyone obviously talks about his size, but I have been more impressed with his skill touches, the ability to know when to take the line on, when to pass and create opportunities for others," McKenzie said. "I have said for a few years now that the thing that defines the All Blacks now is the forwards' contribution to passing in the game. 

"At the All Blacks, their forwards may make up to 25% of passes in a game. Most other countries are around the 12% mark. Having forwards who can create opportunity creates a lot of diversity in the game. I am not talking about playmaking. I'm just talking about continuity in the game, not just crashing the ball up. It's easy to crash the ball up. It's actually knowing when to do that and when to create opportunity for someone else. I have seen him do that a number of times this year."

Growing up playing league, Skelton believes it was his time in the 13-man game that generated the skills that have caught McKenzie's eye. Skelton played league in south Auckland before moving to Australia when he was 10 and played for the Parramatta Junior Eels and a short spell at the Wentworthville Magpies before turning his focus towards rugby union at the age of 15.

"I grew up playing league. I wasn't the fastest guy ... so I would always make half-breaks, just tip on and give it to the faster guys on the edges to score the tries," Skelton said. "My dad always told me to look for the offload; to carry first and then look for the offload because ... like, he said, 'You are not the fastest guy, so it's better for them to make those breaks,' than for me to."

Courted by the Auckland Blues to join them after a pre-season trial against the Waratahs in January last year, Skelton said he was happy he rejected the offer and was excited to be making his Test debut at the Waratahs' home ground.

"The French are a passionate team. They feed off their emotions and play very hard rugby," Skelton said. "This is my chance to show what I've got and to back my skills and help keep [Australia] over the line."

Australia: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins; Bernard Foley, Nic White; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (captain), Scott Fardy; Will Skelton, Rob Simmons; Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper. Replacements: Nathan Charles, Scott Sio, Laurie Weeks, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne.

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