Similarities between Will Skelton, Sonny Bill

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 16:33 27/07/2014
Will Skelton
Getty Images
BIG UNIT: Young Waratahs lock Will Skelton is developing a strong ability to offload in the tackle.

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Dimension-wise they appear far from clones as professional footballers, yet there is a passing resemblance between Will Skelton and Sonny Bill Williams.

The Auckland-born forwards currently play different codes - though Williams returns to rugby at the end of this NRL season - but they share one skill set: an uncanny ability to offload the ball when under defensive pressure.

Williams propensity to keep the ball alive has been a hallmark of his league and rugby career and now the giant Waratahs lock is also emerging as a dab hand at putting teammates into space.

Skelton, a cousin of former All Blacks lock Brad Mika, emulated Williams at the second rower's current home ground, Allianz Stadium, on Saturday night when he produced a perfect transfer for Bernard Foley to scorch clear late in the Waratahs 26-8 semifinal win over the Brumbies.

The 22-year-old, who dwarves even Williams at 2.03-metre tall and 135kg, held four defenders at bay on a weaving run that is becoming the trademark of a player that is undeniably one of the next big things in Australian rugby.

A bashful Skelton typically played down his role in Foley's 76th minute run to glory, saying quietly: ''I was lucky enough to get the pass away.

''I'm surprised, I don't usually make breaks. The forwards try and work hard and just get through contact. I'll have to look at the highlights and see how I went.''

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika also sought to keep his impact player's substantial feet on the ground ahead of Saturday's title showdown with the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium.

''Will's going to get a lot of raps for that and that's good, but there was 55 minutes of people bashing down brick walls beforehand.

''That led to us getting starting to get some forward momentum and then you bring someone like Will on and he pull something like that out of his bag of tricks,'' he said, before being unable to avoid crediting Skelton's style.

''For a young fella ... it just symbolises the fact that we're not worried about the consequences. (It says) 'I'll take responsibility, I'm going to make that pass'. He's got good technique with his offload.''

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie agreed when he named Skelton in the Wallabies squad to play a three-test series against France last month - confident his game-breaking attributes compensated for rarely being a lineout option.

Skelton debuted in the dead rubber at Allianz Stadium, powered over for a seventh-minute try and later set up Israel Folau for a try with, predictably, an offload the French never saw coming.

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''What I liked about him is he's got some sophistication in his game. It's not just about being as big bloke and crashing into the defensive line,'' McKenzie said, before Skelton's selection was vindicated.

''It's the subtlety, not just the offload, he knows when to pass the ball. They're the things that, for me, make him a real threat.''

Skelton replaced Kane Douglas in the 56th minute and although he did not add to the five lineouts he has taken all season, he was a menace at the breakdown, and on attack.

The only blight on his game was a high shot on Brumbies halfback Nic White and kicking the ball away after another penalty cost the Waratahs 10m while they were already hard on defence.

Skelton was apologetic for the tackle on an opponent 28cm shorter and 54kg lighter.

''I've just got to get lower, full stop. I'm pretty tall but I can't that as an excuse. You don't want to cost the team (a penalty).

I'll try my best to work on that this week,'' he said, no doubt to the relief of Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis.

- Stuff

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