SYDNEY (Reuters) - The sight of New South Wales Waratah Will Skelton throwing his 140-kg frame into the breakdown in Super Rugby games this year has excited Sydney fans, but Australia coach Ewen McKenzie is more impressed by the 6ft-7in (2.01m) lock’s silky skills.
Skelton will make his test debut against France in the dead rubber third test in Sydney on Saturday, one of two changes to the Wallabies’ starting side from the 6-0 win over Les Bleus in Melbourne.
In a sign of Skelton’s standing, the much-touted 22-year-old has displaced former captain James Horwill, a 50-test veteran.
McKenzie paid him a greater compliment on Tuesday, comparing him to the highly skilled forwards running for the All Blacks.
“Everyone talks about his size but I’ve been more impressed by the skill touches,” McKenzie told reporters in Sydney.
”I’ve said for years now the thing that’s defined the All Blacks is the forwards’ contribution to passing in the game.
”You’ll find that the All Blacks, their forwards might make up to 25 percent of the passing in the game. Most other countries are around the 12 percent mark.
“So having forwards who can create opportunities creates lots of diversity in the game.”
After attempting to sweep the French 3-0 on Saturday, the Wallabies head back to their Super Rugby clubs to finish the season before bracing for another tilt at winning back the Bledisloe Cup - the annual trophy contested with New Zealand.
Eleven years in New Zealand hands, re-capturing the Bledisloe has become a Holy Grail-like mission for the Wallabies, with the task seemingly becoming more difficult with each passing year.
Australia lost all three tests to the world champion All Blacks last year, their opponents literally unbeatable as they completed a perfect season.
Long short of big locks, Australia will now blood a third in three tests, with ACT Brumbies’ Sam Carter having started the first match in Brisbane and Western Force’s Nathan Charles coming off the bench in Melbourne, which made him the first player suffering cystic fibrosis to play an international.
“It’s easy to crash the ball up,” McKenzie said.
”It’s knowing when to do that and when to create opportunities for someone else and I’ve seen (Skelton) do that a number of times this year and that’s the thing that has impressed me the most.
“He’s just got a good instinct for the game. Anyone who’s been watching the Waratahs all year will know what he’s capable of doing.”
Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien