Romain Sazy — as a way of paying tribute to his fellow La Rochelle hero — said: ‘I play with monsters.’ None of those are bigger and scarier than Sazy’s second-row partner, Will Skelton.
England and Wales have been warned: the giant Wallaby could be a powerful force to be reckoned with at the World Cup.
On Saturday, the 31-year-old claimed his fourth Champions Cup-winner’s medal in six years.
The first two came with Saracens, where his game and physique were so well honed, before three final appearances and two titles at La Rochelle.
What an impact Skelton is having on the club game in Europe — and what impact he could have at Test level this autumn.
Australian Will Skelton claimed his fourth Champions Cup medal in just six years
This comes after La Rochelle were crowned European champions on Saturday after they defeated Leinster 27-26
Ronan O’Gara’s side now have back to back Champions Cup wins after lifting the cup yesterday
After being sacked as England head coach, Eddie Jones has agreed to a second stint with his native Australia believing they have the firepower to win this year’s World Cup. He will find that Skelton is the force of nature they need.
The events in Dublin proved that no matter how the sport develops, extreme physicality remains a fundamental requirement. With the likes of Skelton and Uini Atonio, La Rochelle have more power in the scrum, maul and on the gainline than any other team on the planet.
At 6ft 8in tall and weighing 22 stone, Skelton can dominate all-comers. Even big rival forwards are treated with disdain as he climbs over tackles with his massive, powerful stride.
In the first half on Saturday, Leinster simply covered him, but in the end he was doomed. It’s quite a few bonuses that he possesses a knack for deft offloads to go with his size and combative streak.
Warren Gatland and Steve Borthwick are on high alert. Wales have to play Australia in a pool fixture in Lyon, while England could find themselves in the path of Jones’ side in the quarter-finals in Marseille.
Don’t bet against the script delivering an encounter between the new Red Rose regime and the man who ruled the latter for seven years before he left.
In that event, Skelton poses a serious threat to English hopes. Jones will know that in Skelton, prop Taniela Tupou and center Samu Kerevi, he has three X-factor monsters who can help the Wallabies reverse recent history by bringing England’s ‘Bodyline’ onslaught, and all top country they are dealing with.
If the formidable fulcrum of the La Rochelle pack is successfully reintegrated, the entire balance of power of the World Cup could profoundly change.
The last word
If rugby is serious about protecting the heads of its protagonists, Leinster prop Michael Ala’alatoa should receive a hefty ban this week, after his red card ended any hopes of a late escape by the hosts .
La Rochelle prop Georges-Henri Colombe was left flat on his back, then convulsed after Ala’alatoa’s careless shoulder load on his head and neck.
These wild, cheap shots are a blight on the game. Players standing over the ball should not be vulnerable to such gratuitous attacks.
Skelton (right) proved a pivotal player during the match and will be someone England and Wales will have to keep an eye on at the 2023 Rugby World Cup this autumn
It was heartache for Leinster, who were beaten by La Rochelle in two successive finals
La Rochelle celebrated the victory with an open-top bus parade in front of thousands of fans
Georges Henri Colombe (second from left) was taken off the pitch after sustaining a head injury in the following game.
The offense was ugly to watch, but so was the sight of Leinster center Garry Ringrose lashing out at referee Jaco Peyper for stopping play so the stricken Colombe could receive treatment.
Peyper had no choice but to fire, then correctly concluded that Ala’alatoa had to be fired.
The breakdown is too often a lawless zone and if it is not fixed, the whole concept of the ball game may be in jeopardy.
The day of the jackal is over if their primary role cannot be made safer.