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'Surprised the hell out of me': Jones gets a 'disciple for life' with left field call on 'reluctant' World Cup captain

10th August, 2023
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10th August, 2023
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When Eddie Jones brought Will Skelton back for the Rugby Championship the big lock revealed the coach demanded he bring some edge to the mis-firing team.

Asked to elaborate on what was meant by edge, Skelton said: “I can’t say the word, but it’s the ‘C word.”

So, who would have thought the C word stood for Captain, and not what we all thought it meant?

It’s fair to say Jones’ decision to make the La Rochelle giant his captain for the Rugby World Cup – in a squad chock full of surprises – came as a shock in Australian rugby circles.

“That surprised the hell out of me and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” former Wallaby Will Genia told The Roar. “It seems like it just came from nowhere.”

Jones joked on Thursday that he just “went the biggest bloke on the team”, but Genia believes plenty of thought went into the decision.

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“Because Will plays in France he’s got the experience of living there, playing there, understanding the culture and he’s coming from a winning environment and has a winner’s mindset,” said Genia.

“Eddie is really, really big on establishing a culture around winners and winning. Ever since Will left Australian rugby and went to Saracens he’s been a winner. He’s been at La Rochelle, he’s been a winner, and he’s not just been the passenger in those teams. He’s been an integral part of successful teams at European level.

“That type of mentality is why he’s been chosen. From that perspective, I’d say it’s a good thing and a real positive. Will has lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. And I think that can be infectious, particularly in a young group.

“I really like the idea of him being the captain because you have a young group and what you don’t want is a leader from a generation before that can’t relate as much to the younger generation. You need someone who’s going to be the glue that connects to everyone within the group.

“He’s played really well. He’s carried over his form he European competitions into the Test arena. I think part of the reason he’s going to be the skipper is he’s probably one of the first picked.”

Skelton, 31, was born in New Zealand of Samoan descent. He moved to Australia as a child and qualified for Australia through residency and his rise took him by surprise as well.

“Very shocked, nervous were a few emotions I had when Eddie gave me the call,” Skelton said. “I was very reluctant at first but when the big man calls you you tend to follow his lead and I trust his guidance. I’m excited for what we have in store. We have a young group who are itching to play and get better.

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“He asked me to just be me. Not forcing any chats that need to be had. I’m pretty good around the group, getting around the young boys, providing energy so I’ll keep sticking to that.”

Jones joked that he “just went for the biggest bloke in the team. So it was quite an easy selection.

“We want to change the team. Part of that is changing the way the team’s being led and Will’s a good team man. He’s played in a lot of winning teams in Europe and he brings that almost common touch to the team to bring them together.”

Jones felt “we need someone who can bring the squad together, make it a little tighter.

“He’s a guy that’s used to winning. That’s definitely part of the rationale. A lot of this squad aren’t used to winning.”

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Will Skelton of Australia pictured during the Autumn International match between Ireland and Australia at Aviva Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Will Skelton of Australia pictured during the Autumn International match between Ireland and Australia at Aviva Stadium on November 19, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

“Captaincy was never in my thoughts or any future thoughts,” added Skelton. “I try to play a role here to provide experience and value where I can and with this role I’m not going to change anything. It’s almost going to help me better with my game and worry about what I can control.”

Asked for his message to fans, Skelton said: “Keep backing us. We’re a young squad, full of energy, we’ve been slowly building the last couple of weeks, we haven’t got the results but as a squad we’ve seen improvements and we’re ready to attack this World Cup.”

His World Cup deputy Tate McDermott acknowledged that Skelton was softly spoken.

“He’s so reserved (but) he’s obviously done a hell of a lot in the game and as soon as someone like that takes the role everyone listens,” said McDermott. “All of a sudden he commands that respect and he’s massive on the connection piece, how we gel together. Willie has that, he’s a very popular man and the boys love him.”

Former Wallaby Nick Phipps, speaking on Stan Sport, said Skelton’s elevation was about “changing the culture of the team.

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Will Skelton of Wallabies thanks the fans during the Rugby Championship match between Australia and Argentina at CommBank Stadium on July 15, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Pete Dovgan/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Will Skelton. (Photo by Pete Dovgan/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Some guys got used to losing in the last couple of years,” he said.

“Will Skelton, as captain, in many ways signifies that change to the winning culture because in France with La Rochelle there isn’t much they haven’t won.

“It’s also a massive reflection on him as a person. He came on the scene quite early here in Australia then he dropped off a bit, had issues around his playing style, his fitness but you can see he’s fully reinvented himself into being that dominant player we always knew he could be.

“He just needed to make the decision to do it himself. He made that progression through his own career, his own personal journey and I think the boys will get right behind him.”

Former Wallaby Justin Harrison was also surprised but embraced the yarn.

“Being awarded captaincy does a few things – you either earn it because you’re a senior player and you’re a leader and the best player in the team, or it provokes performance and leadership in someone you want to build affinity with,” said Harrison.

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“Eddie Jones is very good at recruiting disciples for life. Will Skelton is his disciple for life. He’s brought him back from overseas.

“We like his story too, he showed up early , big boy a bit out of condition, went overseas, learned the game, learned the tight forward play, came back and is imparting it. That’s a good story.”

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