Will Skelton eyeing more European glory with La Rochelle

Will Skelton is hoping his love affair with the Heineken Champions Cup can continue

This season, Will Skelton is looking to win his fourth Heineken Champions Cup title.

During his time at Saracens, the Australian won the competition twice and after arguably forging his career in North London, Skelton went over to France and also clinched the biggest prize in Europe with La Rochelle.

This weekend, current holders La Rochelle take on Exeter Chiefs for a place in next month's final and Skelton relishes his performances in this tournament and suggests it brings the best out of him.

"I think it’s a great tournament, probably the best club rugby tournament in the world," he said. "You get to travel and play against different styles of rugby. Playing at Sarries, I got to play against teams in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and you get to test yourself against the best."

Exeter have had a mixed season but they have hit their stride in Europe after huge wins over Montpellier and DHL Stormers. Skelton is well aware of the threat that they pose, having battled against the Chiefs during his time with Saracens.

"I’ve never won at Sandy Park so that sticks with me,” said Skelton. "Exeter are a world-class team and we were lucky to beat them on a couple of occasions but those games could’ve gone either way.

"The physicality was always there. We’re expecting to make 10, 15, 20 tackles in the forward pack which is pretty unheard of."

There aren’t many more physically imposing players in world rugby than Skelton but at 6ft 8in, and tipping the scales at close to 140kg, the towering lock stresses the importance of “balance” to know when to be aggressive and when to keep a cool head.

"The heart of our game is physicality and that’s one thing that will never change. I like to have a laugh and a joke before games and be able to switch it on when I get on the field. Not taking it too far has been my battle throughout my career. 

"I’ve had a few red cards and a few yellow cards throughout my career. Having that controlled aggression, and just picking your moments [is key]. You wouldn’t last 20 minutes if you just went all out."

Skelton continued this theme and said he has mellowed, with his teammates good at bringing each other down to earth on the pitch to prevent them losing control: "They can sense when something’s happening. When we played Sarries, I dropped my first two carries and gave away a stupid penalty.

"Tawera Kerr-Barlow just stopped me and said ‘bro next job.’ A good relationship with your teammates is pivotal in getting over a situation."

At the head of it all is La Rochelle boss Ronan O’Gara and he has been phenomenal so far in his period in charge, guiding the club to domestic and European success.

"His coaching has been great," Skelton added."His attention to detail is spot-on. He tries to take emotion away from us so we are free out on the field and able to express ourselves.

"He’s got a lot of experience in this competition. When we play teams from the URC [United Rugby Championsip] he’ll always say; ‘This is their World Cup’ and they don’t always put everything into the URC because Europe is the pinnacle for them. He tries to emphasise that to us midweek so we know what to expect."

After seeing off Northampton Saints and Gloucester in this competition, La Rochelle are now hoping to get past another Gallagher Premiership outfit on Sunday.

If they were to win, it would see the holders face Leinster in a bid to retain their crown while for Skelton, it would be a fourth final in five years.


European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table