Wallabies giant Will Skelton has made an unwelcome piece of rugby history by becoming the first player to be sent off while playing for the Barbarians.
Yet the Australian’s first-half dismissal in Sunday’s non-cap international at Twickenham still didn’t stop the French-dominated invitation side offering Eddie Jones’ England a humbling 52-21 defeat on their home patch.
Will Skelton is given an early shower.Credit:Getty
Skelton became the first player in the Baa-Baas’ 132-year history to get his marching orders, after his shoulder to the head of Patrick Schickerling in the 37th minute forced the Exeter prop out of the match over a failed head injury assessment.
Yet even when having to play 43 minutes with only 14 men, Fabien Galthie’s side, featuring Les Bleus players who’d shone in their Six Nations grand slam triumph, offered England a humbling loss before their tour to Australia.
Eddie Jones had put some youthful faces into the fray but, even given the experimental feel to the line-up, the defeat was a fairly humiliating one – their biggest defeat to the Baa-baas, even though they’d played more than one half with a man advantage.
Skelton deservedly got sent off after Schickerling had knocked the ball on around England’s 22 and the La Rochelle second-rower shouldered the prop carelessly.
Officials ruled it was a sending-off because the 2.03m, 140kg Skelton had time to avoid the collision and didn’t use his arms on Schickerling, who hadn’t actually been in possession of the ball anyway.
The prop didn’t return in the second half after his HIA.
Skelton also might have got lucky that he didn’t get penalised for an earlier hit on Tom Curry.
Still, his absence still didn’t stop the Baa-baas racking up eight tries in total.
Jones, while playing down the significance of the loss, was still forced to concede: “We were beaten pretty badly at the breakdown, so it’s a good reminder of how much work we have to do before Australia.
“No one is happy about the result but, again, we look at it in the light of what we’re trying to do.
“There’s a contextual situation here. I know you’re struggling to understand it, but we’re trying to build a new team, play a different way, a style that suits that players and there are going to be some ups and downs.”
Meanwhile, Skelton is set to feature in the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship squad after admitting he was “hurt” by being overlooked for Test honours against England.
Skelton’s Baa Baas call-up capped another standout season in European rugby. The 30-year-old giant starred for Heineken Cup champions La Rochelle this season, adding to the silverware he collected from spells with Saracens (2019) and the Waratahs (2014).
His impact off the bench for his club had France and Barbarians coach Fabian Galthie scratching his head over how Australia had declined the chance to recall the second-rower for the England series.
Skelton tackles Antoine Dupont of Toulouse in last year’s Heineken Cup final.Credit:Getty
But the Herald has learned that Skelton and once-regular second row pick, Rory Arnold, are in the frame for the next series, The Rugby Championship, which starts with back-to-back Tests away against Argentina. Force lock Izack Rodda, who partnered regularly with Arnold under former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, is out for three months with a foot injury. The absence will rule him out of the Argentina and, potentially, South Africa legs of the tournament.
Under the revised Giteau Law protocols, Rennie can only have three overseas-based players per series, meaning he would have to swap out one or more of the current three – Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete – to make room for Skelton or Arnold.
With Kerevi eyeing a Commonwealth Games campaign with the Australian men’s sevens side, Rennie could face some tough choices between his workhorse winger, Koroibete, and Cooper, who is his likely starting No.10.
Coach Dave Rennie hinted to the Herald recently that the long European season contributed to his decision to look to Japan for reinforcements against England, but reiterated that Skelton could come into play beyond that.
“That’s the challenge around guys coming out of France. They go deep into a season. It’s been a hell of a long year,” Rennie said. “We brought them [Skelton and Rory Arnold] in last year, and he fitted in well. I’m not looking to bring him back for the England series but maybe beyond that.”
The Japanese season ran almost parallel to Super Rugby Pacific, allowing Cooper, Kerevi and Koroibete to arrive fresh and rested in Australia after their seasons wrapped up at the end of May.
Skelton and Arnold’s clubs are still playing in the French domestic league, and Rennie may have wanted to give them time to recuperate before enlisting them for The Rugby Championship.
The message may have been scrambled in transit, because Skelton told a recent podcast he was “hurt” by the snub.
“I obviously played in November and I haven’t had much contact after that. I think I spoke to Rens a week after we broke up and I haven’t had much contact,” he said.
“In my head I had an inkling that they’d pick those Japanese boys – the season’s aligned with Super Rugby and the Japanese league and with us having such a long season I know from the chats that we had in November they were almost not going to pick us.
“It obviously hurts not to be selected but that’s life and I can only control what I can control.”
Watch every match of the July Test Series on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Kicks off Saturday, July 2 with Wallabies v England, New Zealand v Ireland, South Africa v Wales and Argentina v Scotland. All streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport.
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