Eddie Jones hails Saracens for major Will Skelton improvement to boost Australia’s World Cup hopes
The 6ft 8in, 22stone monster lock Skelton cut an indomitable presence as his La Rochelle side ground past Leinster 27-26 to claim Champions Cup final glory in Dublin on Saturday.
Skelton bent the game to his will by pairing outlandish size with brutal accuracy and focus, as Ronan O’Gara’s side retained their Champions Cup crown at the Aviva Stadium.
The 31-year-old Skelton will hand Australia the kind of tight-five ballast that most Test nations could only dream of, and a beaming Wallabies boss Jones laid the credit for that development at Saracens’ door.
Skelton left the Waratahs for Saracens in 2017, with Mark McCall’s Men In Black whipping the giant second row into peak physical and mental condition. Saracens won two European titles with Skelton in the engine room, and now the Auckland-born powerhouse has had the same effect on La Rochelle.
“I think it’s a classic example of European rugby improving a player,” said ex-England boss Jones, of Skelton. “I think Saracens had the most significant effect on him.
“Up until then he’d never been really fit and they got him fit and got him enjoying playing at the highest level. Then he’s gone on to La Rochelle and taken that forward. He’s a product of Saracens’ system.”
Jones was sacked by England in December, only to jump straight into a second stint as Wallabies boss.
The 63-year-old’s 2003 Australia team were beaten by England in the World Cup final in Sydney, but now Jones could gain Webb Ellis Cup revenge.
Australia might have the chance to face England in the quarter-finals at the World Cup in France this autumn, and Jones believes Skelton can hand the Wallabies a big edge at the tournament.
Saracens helped open Skelton’s eyes to the benefits of a tightly controlled diet and a total change of regimen helped him maximise his prodigious, physical talents.
Jones admitted Skelton’s impact on that Champions Cup final was clear, even without watching the full match.
“I have seen parts of the game, but he was enormous,” said Jones, who will coach the Barbarians in Sunday’s World XV showdown at Twickenham.
“You look at the World Cup, probably up to the quarter-finals they are going to be pretty quick games, flat pitches, sun shining, but you know once you get to the Stade de France and the later stages, in the heavy atmosphere and heavy pitch it becomes a set-piece contest.
“And having a right-sided lock like him in that situation is a big advantage.”
Jones’ Barbarians will go up against ex-All Blacks boss Steve Hansen’s World XV in west London on Sunday, with both teams boasting stellar line-ups. Jones is fully dialled into putting on a show for the paying public.
He said: “The Barbarians is an important institution. Alun Wyn Jones has 170 caps, and we’ve got Kai Yamamoto who doesn’t have a cap and doesn’t speak English.
“But Alun Wyn is there speaking to him, having an in-depth conversation. The only thing that separates us from other sports is our traditional spirit. This game is really important to show the values of the sport.”