Romain Sazy — as a means of lauding his fellow La Rochelle heroes — said: ‘I play with monsters.’ None of those are bigger and scarier than Sazy’s second-row partner, Will Skelton.
England and Wales be warned: the giant Wallaby could be an almighty force to be reckoned with at the World Cup.
On Saturday, the 31-year-old claimed his fourth Champions Cup-winner’s medal in the space of six years.
The first two came with Saracens, where his game and physique were so expertly honed, before three final appearances and two titles with La Rochelle.
What an impact Skelton is having on the club game in Europe — and what an impact he could have at Test level this autumn.
Australian Will Skelton has claimed his fourth Champions Cup medal in just six years
It comes after La Rochelle were crowned European champions on Saturday after they beat Leinster 27-26
Ronan O’Gara’s side have now gone back-to-back with Champions Cup wins after hoisting the cup yesterday
After being sacked as head coach of England, Eddie Jones agreed to a second stint with his native Australia in the belief that they have the firepower to win the World Cup this year. He will know that Skelton is the force of nature they need.
Events in Dublin proved that no matter how the sport evolves, extreme physicality remains a staple requirement. In the likes of Skelton and Uini Atonio, La Rochelle have more heavyweight clout in the scrum, the 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 large rival forwards are treated with disdain as he climbs through tackles with his huge, powerful stride.
During the first half on Saturday, Leinster just about kept a lid on him, but by the end he was wreaking havoc. It is quite some bonus that he possesses a knack for deft offloads to go with his size and combative streak.
Warren Gatland and Steve Borthwick will be on a state of high alert. Wales have to play Australia in a pool fixture in Lyon, while England could find themselves in the path of Jones’s 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 led the last one for seven years before his exit.
In that event, Skelton poses a grave threat to English hopes. Jones will know that in Skelton, prop Taniela Tupou and centre Samu Kerevi, he has three X-factor monsters who could help the Wallabies to reverse recent history by inflicting a ‘Bodyline’ onslaught on England, and all the leading nations they face.
If the formidable fulcrum of the La Rochelle pack is successfully reintegrated, the whole balance of World Cup power could profoundly shift.
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 hope of a late escape by the hosts.
La Rochelle prop Georges-Henri Colombe was left prone on his back, then convulsing after Ala’alatoa’s reckless shoulder charge into 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 aggression.
Skelton (pictured left and right) proved to be a pivotal player during the match and will be one man England and Wales will need to keep an eye on at the 2023 Rugby World Cup this autumn
It was heartache for Leinster, who have been beaten by La Rochelle in two consecutive 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 removed from the pitch after suffering a head injury during the game following
The offence was ugly to behold, but so was the sight of Leinster centre Garry Ringrose berating referee Jaco Peyper for halting the game so the stricken Colombe could receive treatment.
Peyper had no choice but to blow the whistle, then correctly conclude that Ala’alatoa had to be sent off. The breakdown is too often a lawless zone and if it can’t be tidied up, the whole concept of contesting the ball may be in danger.
The day of the jackal is over if their key role cannot be made safer.