Skelton, White and why the Wallabies need 'winners'

Will Skelton is tackled during the Premiership final at Twickenham, June 1, 2019 Henry Browne/Getty Images

The Wallabies are, at this stage, short of many of the ingredients a World Cup-winning team needs.

The lack of a world-class, in-form fly-half; line-bending forward ball-runners and a genuine attacking X-factor are obvious issues Michael Cheika and his fellow Wallabies selectors will be trying to rectify before the tournament kicks off in September.

Some issues are fixable, or are at least workable situations. Others are not.

But at the top of Michael Cheika's Mission Impossible is that the Wallabies have been a bunch of losers. From Super Rugby to Test level, Australia has been short on success while the Wallabies will enter five World Cup warm-up games - three in the Rugby Championship, Bledisloe II and a one-off Test against Samoa - having lost nine of 13 Tests in 2018.

The stink of defeat has set in.

Which is why Cheika is perhaps so keen to bring Will Skelton back from Saracens where winning is a habit. The English champions on Saturday completed the Premiership-European Cup double in a come-from-behind 37-34 defeat of Exeter at Twickenham, a triumph in which Skelton made 17 tackles in a solid 48-minute performance.

There may have been few of the line-busting charges that saw him promoted to the starting side across the season, and have Saracens still hoping he'll commit to a two-year contract extension, but an energetic defensive effort and activity at the breakdown certainly reflect the increased work-rate that has come with his slimmed down figure.

But more than that, Skelton now knows what it feels like to win. The knockout format of the European Cup playoffs and the Premiership's postseason is more akin to what a World Cup resembles than anything Super Rugby's hotchpotch of a finals format offers.

In two years at Saracens, Skelton has been a part of two Premiership winning teams and a European Cup triumph. He's a guy who knows what it's like to win big games and that is something that's in short supply among Australia's local contingent.

It seems that Cheika still has some way to go to secure his services for Japan, though. The Wallabies coach must either alter Australia's Giteau Law - and extend the Super Rugby return window from one year to two - or make a compelling case to Skelton that he extend his Saracens deal for only one year as opposed to two.

Reports in The Australian on Monday suggested Cheika is little chance of achieving a Giteau Law tweak, and that was backed up later in the afternoon by Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle.

"The Giteau Law is something that an enormous amount of time and effort was put into the thought, despite what people might think," she said.

"There'd be no intention to move away from that in relation to Will Skelton.

"His management has been in touch with our footy guys about his desire to want to come back and play for Australia but like all international players we have to make sure we apply those rules with a level of consistency."

Cheika's focus must instead be selling Skelton on a struggling Super Rugby competition with the carrot of a central World Cup role, against the potential of more English and European glory with Saracens.

That is likely to take all of the Wallabies coach's renowned sales ability.

But Cheika at least won't have to make the same pitch to Nic White, whose energy and class were also evident in the Premiership decider on Saturday.

White was in the game from the first minute, grabbing the game's opening try with a burrowing effort between some shell-shocked Saracens defenders at close range. Unfortunately for the former Brumbies halfback, the Premiership final again ended in an Exeter defeat.

White will have one last chance to lift the trophy with Exeter next season, having agreed to return home to Australia once his time with the Chiefs concludes this time next year.

While White may have been a part of two losing final teams, he has established himself among the Premiership's finest No. 9s. His box-kick is a weapon no other Australian scrum-halves have mastered and he remains as sharp on his feet as ever, often stopping the first couple of defenders from committing further out when he darts out from the base of the ruck.

Cheika has a clear point-of-difference with White at halfback as opposed to long-time first choice scrum-half Will Genia; so too a skill-set that seems to suit how this World Cup will likely be played.

And while he may have suffered two defeats when it matters most, the value to the Wallabies of White's involvement in Exeter's back-to-back, 17-win minor premiership seasons, should not be overlooked.

Skelton's triple-trophy winning experience would be the cherry on top.