Chief Rugby Reporter – Sydney Morning Herald
French legend Thierry Dusautoir foresaw a long and glittering Wallabies career and Ewen McKenzie hailed his rookie’s “influential” Test debut, but Will Skelton was taking none of the credit on Saturday.
The giant 22-year-old said he was simply in the right place at the right time to score the Wallabies’ first try and explained away a deft try assist to Israel Folau with “when Izzy calls for the ball you give it to him”.
He admitted to being plagued by nerves all week in Sydney but said it all melted away after his first carry in front of a 43,000-strong home crowd.
“It was a lot different to Super Rugby, there are long passages of play where you have to be on point, and the intensity was a lot higher. I was really happy with the result,” he said.
There was a lot of help from his NSW teammates, too. Wycliff Palu’s man of the match performance set the right tone and Folau, he said, was always in his ear.
“We’re a pretty close-knit team at the Tahs and those little combinations help when you’re out there. It was a lot easier to play with a few of the Waratahs boys out there.”
Skelton’s 56-minute performance has given McKenzie food for thought heading into a brutal Rugby Championship campaign in less than two months’ time.
The coach hailed his second-rower’s contribution to Australia’s 39-13 clean sweep of France in Sydney, which included a try, a try assist and a litany of impact moments.
“I don’t know what [France] did in terms of analysis but he’s a hard guy to handle,” McKenzie said.
“Everyone probably has ideas but when you get out there and he’s hurtling at you it’s not as simple. He’s pretty athletic in the end, he got out of some tricky situations, they put some pressure on him and he handled that pretty well.”
Skelton’s try in the eighth minute had the crowd on their feet but it was his pass to Folau to set the fullback up for his second try in the second half that attracted particular praise.
“He has a fairly unique approach to the game and it’s something that we employed,” McKenzie said.
“It gives us something to think about for sure, he had a significant influence on a Test match against a tier one country in his first game.
“You can’t do much more than that, play one Test, score one try and set another one up. I thought it was pretty good.”
The Wallabies disband on Sunday for the remainder of the Super Rugby season and will come back together in August.
Michael Hooper was again influential, proving with every Test that the burden of leadership sits easily on his shoulders.
“Seven wins in a row is something I’ve never been a part of in Super Rugby or Test team in my career,” Hooper said.
“It’s a really nice space to be in as a group and with such short turnarounds and going into games with such short notice it’s a really positive thing to have.”
The 22-year-old openside breakaway said the back row stood up to the French challenge.
“France have a really good back row, they pressure our ball hard, and have good ball carriers,” Hooper said.
“We know we’re going to see similar, class back rows all through the Rugby Championship so it’s a really good start to the year for us playing the quality and calibre of players we played this series.”
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Image courtesy of AJF Photography.