Departing Waratahs second-rower Will Skelton is not sure where his international career is at but says he wants to put his hand up whenever possible for the Wallabies, provided his Super Rugby performances improve.
Skelton has signed a two-year deal with English Premiership side Saracens after spending two months with the London-based team following the Wallabies spring tour late last year.
Given Skelton has not played 60 or more Tests for his country, he will be unavailable for Wallabies duties in 2018 and the first half of 2019, meaning it is unlikely he will come into coach Michael Cheika’s Rugby World Cup calculations.
The 24-year-old has been grappling with the decision of whether to stay or go for a number weeks and says it came down to what was best for his family, even if the move may tarnish a potential Wallabies career for the time being.
“It was a massive decision to not be able to put the gold jersey on again or be able to put my hand up to put on the jersey again but that’s one we haven’t taken lightly,” Skelton told Fairfax Media. “The World Cup’s a massive thing in a rugby player’s career. I’ve been apart of one and I did half a tournament because I got injured. It’s a massive focus but at the end of the day, I put my family first in this decision. We chose as a family to go alone and experience life over there.”
Skelton said Cheika was “disappointed” at the news and there would be an increasing frustration on the part of the Wallabies boss at seeing so many of his star players leave n shores for the cash and experience of Europe.
However, Skelton has been told he will eligible for Wallabies selection in June and the Rugby Championship provided his form was up to scratch.
He can opt for an early release to join Saracens in time for the start of their season in September but that will be sorted out at a later date.
“Cheika was disappointed and who wouldn’t be if you’ve got guys going overseas?” Skelton said. “He’s coached me since I came into the league so I’ve learnt a lot from Cheik and Daryl [Gibson]. They’ve been my first Super Rugby coaches and I’ve learnt a lot and I’m thankful for what they’ve taught me.
“We’ll always keep in contact if that window or door does open. I’ll keep that door open to come back.
“Talking to Cheik he didn’t say it would affect anything. He’s going to pick the best players who are in form and who will do their part for the team so I’m always going to put my hand up there.”
Skelton refuted suggestions the signings of Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman and a number of other promising second-rowers had anything to do with his defection to Britain.
“Mate, to be honest that didn’t really come into it at all,” Skelton said. “We’ve been fighting for positions for the last two or three years and we’ve got healthy competition there within the Aussie ranks and we’re really building that depth we need in the lock position.
“Was it [for] financial [reasons]? No. It was a massive family decision for us to be out of our comfort zone. That was the main driver.
“I had a taste of it for that short stint and I enjoyed it. I got a feel for the place, got to know the boys and it made the decision a lot easier.”
Skelton has played 18 Tests for the Wallabies, with four of those caps coming in 2016.
Even if Cheika wanted to give the 203-centimetre giant another shot, Skelton says he needed to lift his game, starting with a big performance for NSW against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday.
“It begins with the Waratahs. I feel like I haven’t been playing good footy for the Tahs and that needs to happen if I want to stake a claim in the national team,” Skelton said. “I really need to perform for my team and I put my hand up week in week out to do that. The Hurricanes is my focus short-term.”