Super-sized Will Skelton leads Wallabies to clean sweep of France

Will Skelton celebrates with teammates after scoring a try against France. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Will Skelton celebrates with teammates after scoring a try against France. Picture: GETTY IMAGES


Gifts come in many guises and super-sized second rower Will Skelton could be just what the Wallabies need leading into next year’s World Cup.

The youngest and largest Wallaby in Ewen McKenzie’s squad scored a try on debut and sparked Australia’s five-try, 39-13 demolition of France in the third Test in Sydney on Saturday.

Skelton ran, he passed, he hit rucks – a 25th minute clean-out was a thing of beauty – and an eighth minute one-handed try was the cherry on top of a sparkling debut.

France didn’t know how to handle Australia’s 203cm weapon. He easily took the ball at the front of an early line-out and drew defenders in a manner usually reserved for Israel Folau.

It was this quality that allowed Folau to slice through for his 13th Test try and third career double in the 42nd minute. Instead of marking Folau, Les Bleus had their eyes on ‘‘The Eclipse’’ and Izzy had all the space he needed.

By the time Skelton left the field in the 56th minute he had charmed the recording-breaking 42,188 crowd at Allianz Stadium and probably firmed his name on a list of must-haves in McKenzie’s World Cup squad.

It was a birthday to remember for McKenzie, the side’s seventh straight win under his reign at the ground at which the former prop made his debut in 1990 and played his final Test seven years later.

After the dour display in Melbourne, it was also what rugby needed in Australia. Sunshine, gold berets, a dry deck and intent to play. It took 53 minutes for either side to score a point last week. On Saturday it took three minutes. Where they were edgy and unsure at Etihad last week, the Wallabies were patient and calm with firepower up front. They worked 20 phases to put Skelton over in the eighth minute and tore at the French line at will.

Man of the match Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Skelton gave their backs front-foot ball and quality service from halfback Nic White and five-eighth Bernard Foley orchestrated the rest. Foley put first points on the board with a penalty goal just inside 40 metres and France had the chance to level less than a minute later when Wallabies flanker Scott Fardy was penalised for not releasing, but halfback Maxime Machenaud’s kick faded.

Skelton struck next, taking a ball from  Nic White and dragging French openside Fulgence Ouedraogo over the line with him. Foley converted to give Australia a 10-0 lead.

Machenaud slotted a difficult kick from past halfway to make it 10-3 before Foley made it 13-3, but things went from bad to worse when France lost prop Rabah Slimani to the bin for holding Michael Hooper off the ball.

The Wallabies pounced, using the overlap to send Folau over for a try in the corner in the 27th minute and Foley converted to extend the Wallabies lead to 17 points. French winger Hugo Bonneval made a dangerous break down the left wing but was pulled up by Adam Ashley-Cooper. They settled for three points shortly after, Machenaud making it 20-6 going into the break.

Folau and Skelton teamed up in the second half with a beautiful short pass that put the dual international fullback over for his 13th try in 18 Tests. Foley converted in front of the posts to make it 27-6.

McKenzie injected his bench into the match from the 50th minute and it paid further dividends. Replacement No.9 Nick Phipps shot inside centre Kurtley Beale the ball and the Waratahs playmaking combination of Beale and Foley struck to put Hooper away for Australia’s fourth try. The NSW five-eighth converted to give the Wallabies an unassailable 34-6 lead, and France was left with only consolation when hooker Guilhem Guirado scored off a maul in the 66th minute. Phipps then took his own chance, claiming five points in the 75th minute, and Foley missed his first kick for goal of the match, leaving the Wallabies convincing 39-13 victors.


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