Will Skelton, third from left,  is close to signing a new deal with Saracens despite the best efforts of Michael Cheika to bring him back to Australia. Picture: Getty Images
Will Skelton, third from left, is close to signing a new deal with Saracens despite the best efforts of Michael Cheika to bring him back to Australia. Picture: Getty Images

21kgs in 18 months: shredded Skelton’s World Cup sacrifice

WALLABIES lock Will Skelton admits turning his back on a crack at the Rugby World Cup to re-sign with Saracens has been the toughest decision of his career.

The 26-year-old is poised to ink a new two-year deal with the powerhouse English club, who take on Irish giants Leinster in a highly anticipated European Champions Cup final on Saturday (Sunday 2am AEST).

The signing looks imminent despite some late efforts at persuasion by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who is keen to regain Skelton as an option for an Australian second row that's struggled for consistency.

Having once tipped the scales at 140kg, the former NSW Waratahs lock has shedded 21kg in 18 months and been in outstanding form this season.

Skelton moved to the UK after Cheika lost patience with the lock's lack of fitness and dropped him following the 2016 Spring Tour.

Under the leadership of Saracens coach Mark McCall, Skelton has thrived in a squad brimming with international stars including Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Schalk Burger and Liam Williams.

However, with just 18 international appearances to his name, Skelton is a long way short of the 60 required under Rugby Australia's Giteau's law - which permits overseas-based players to be selected for the Wallabies.

Saracens boss Mark McCall told Will Skelton he had to drop weight.
Saracens boss Mark McCall told Will Skelton he had to drop weight.

"I had some chats with Cheik at the start of the year and my manager has spoken to him a lot," Skelton told AAP.

"He was trying to get me back home and there were some (Super Rugby) offers, but it is difficult because I've agreed to stay here.

"There's still a few bits and pieces to nut down but I am close to signing a new deal here.

"It was a massively difficult decision given the World Cup is this year but if the rules change in the future I'll always put my hand up to play for Australia."

Will Skelton has had a physical transformation since moving to Saracens.
Will Skelton has had a physical transformation since moving to Saracens.

Skelton had to bide his time in his first season with Saracens after McCall told him no uncertain terms that unless he lost weight he'd never fulfil the potential he showed when he debuted for the Waratahs as a 19-year-old.

"Will's been a revelation since he came over here," McCall told AAP.

"But he'll be the first to admit he's been a bit a slow burner.

"He's always been a huge talent and able to bring something to a team that other players can't, not only because of his size but his skill set as well.

"But what we needed from Will was for him to have a bigger impact in games and the only way to do that was for him to lose some weight.

"He's done that through his own single-mindedness.

"The club love him, the coaches love him and the players love him, and we want to keep him."

Leinster, the current European champions, stand in the way of Saracens' quest for a third title in four years in a match that will be played at Newcastle United's St James' Park.

Former Wallabies and Brumbies second-rower Scott Fardy will line up for the Irish side and Skelton is looking forward to locking horns with his ex-international teammate.

"'Fards' is always tough, he is a great player and great bloke, as well," Skelton said.

"He's gone over there and added value to Leinster and help make them successful.

"It will be a great challenge and I am looking forward to it - these are the games every rugby player wants to play in."

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