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Cheika floats Skelton as World Cup possibility as selections narrow

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Cheika floats Skelton as World Cup possibility as selections narrow
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - European Champions Cup Final - Leinster Rugby v Saracens - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - May 11, 2019 Saracens' Will Skelton in action Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith   -   Copyright  LEE SMITH(Reuters)
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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Giant lock Will Skelton still has an outside chance to make Australia’s World Cup squad if Rugby Australia can agree a contract with him in the next few days, coach Michael Cheika has said.

Skelton is currently contracted to English club Saracens and to be eligible for the Wallabies for the global showpiece in Japan he would need to sign an agreement to return to Australia for 2020.

RA had been hoping to agree a contract with Skelton earlier this year and while Cheika said finalising the terms as they hold their last selection meetings over the next two days would be a long shot, he would still be discussed.

“We’ll have a look and see what the discussion is there over the next day or two, before the squad is selected,” Cheika told reporters at Sydney airport on Sunday when asked if any players from outside the current squad would be considered.

“If the situation about coming back to Australia is any clearer … he would be, if his contract situation was right, to meet the rules,” he added after he brought up Skelton’s name as a possibility.

“That’s highly unlikely right now with only a day or two to go. But more to pick from, the more options that gives us all.”

Skelton never really got the best out of an imposing 2.03-metre tall, 150kg frame while in Australia but has lost weight and been in strong form for the European club champions.

Cheika’s side meanwhile came crashing back to earth on Saturday when they were beaten 36-0 by the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup decider, just a week after they had beaten the world champions 47-26 in Perth.

The coach, however, said he was pleased with his side’s progress from last year and there would be some tough discussions among the selection panel that includes Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor.

The first discussion would be the composition of the squad and whether they would again go with just two scrumhalves and two hookers as they did at the 2015 World Cup to allow them greater versatility in the rest of the squad.

Prop Scott Sio and utility back Matt Giteau were the third-string hooker and scrumhalf respectively in England four years ago, although neither were needed to play there.

“It (rests) on the configuration of the squad, how many forwards to how many backs, the specialist positions – how many of those,” Cheika said.

“You’d imagine they’ll be the first discussions had and from there we’ll decide which players, because that decides how many you’ll have in the rest of the squad.”

Cheika names his World Cup squad on Friday before the team head to Noumea for a training camp ahead of their final warmup game against Samoa in Sydney on Sept. 7.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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