Wallabies forward Will Skelton will rub shoulders on Sunday in a line-up that includes players from Test, Shute Shield and sub-districts rugby. And he says he is nervous.
When the 140-kilogram Waratah runs out for the Sydney Stars in their National Rugby Championship round-two game against Melbourne Rising at Leichardt Oval for a scheduled 3pm kick-off, he will be chasing as much time on the field as he can get.
With a total of only 26 minutes off the bench for the Wallabies in their past two Tests against the All Blacks, Skelton is excited to start on Sunday in a Stars’ line-up of 23 that is a veritable cocktail of rugby talent.
It is made up of another Wallaby in prop Paddy Ryan, two fellow Waratahs in prop Jeremy Tilse and back-rower Pat McCutcheon, 14 Sydney University regulars – including third-grade front rower Jack Jones, who is on the reserves bench – one player from the Eastern Suburbs and Southern Districts clubs and three from Balmain sub-districts.
But when watching some NRC matches in between his Wallabies duties in the Rugby Championship, Skelton admits that he has been surprised by the speed of the game and is not sure what to expect from himself on Sunday.
“I’m pretty nervous actually,” Skelton said on Saturday after the Stars captain’s run in wind and rain at Sydney University. “I watched the first couple of games and they’ve been high paced.
“I haven’t played more than 40 minutes [in any one game] in the last three months. I haven’t played a full 60 to 80 since mid-round [of the Super Rugby season.]”
How far into the game he can last, Skelton is not sure; but he says he “will try” to play it out to the end.
“I’ll see how the legs go, play as long as I can and do my role for the team,” he said. “They have a simple game plan at the Stars. I’ll try and impose myself on the field. But hopefully I can get my hands on the ball and try and play some running rugby.”
Not that Skelton will have time to stop at the end. He will be on the first plane from Sydney to Perth to join the Wallabies. The Wallabies are due to fly to Perth on Sunday morning to start preparing for Saturday’s Test against the Springboks.
“After the game, it’s shower up and straight to the airport,” Skelton said, adding that while he still regards the Wallabies’ loss to the All Blacks last week in Auckland as “disappointing,” he is confident the squad will quickly refocus for the Springboks.
However, he is not dwelling too much on the past, nor is he on what lies ahead. He is just looking to Sunday’s NRC game and hopeful of playing a role in their first win.
The Stars lost their NRC opener against Brisbane City 45-20 in Brisbane last week. But Melbourne Rising head coach Sean Hedger is still wary of the Stars’ strength.
“Rather than worry about individuals, we just know that it’s going to be a very well-drilled 23 that we come up against,” Hedger said.
“[But] Will Skelton …will be a big threat. You have to get your defence right around him to limit his impact, and they have a lot of speed out wide.
“[Henry] Clunies-Ross and [James] Dargaville are both good wingers who were named in the Shute Shield team of the year. So we’ll have to watch them closely – they scored over 30 tries between them this season.”
Hedger also sees plenty of scope for improvement from his side despite their first-round victory against the North Harbour Rays 55-34 – especially in defence.
“With 30-odd points being scored against us, clearly a lot of the focus this week has been on defence and defensive structures,” he said.
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