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Exclusive: Ross Skeate - Locked on for Toulon success

09 December 2008

Ross Skeate: Fresh challenge

RossSkeate.com 2008

"Structured rugby has its place, but I wanted to be in the French league that was full of flair and running sort of rugby" - Ross Skeate

At 6ft 7ins Ross Skeate is used to making a big impression, but Toulon?s new South African lock is hoping that it?s his game ? not just his frame ? that sets tongues wagging in Top 14.

The 26-year-old joined Toulon from Western Province last month and said he is already relishing the change of continents and rugby styles as he begins to settle in to life in the south of France.

?They are a great bunch of guys and when I arrived they were really easy to get along with and people like Jerry Collins ? who I played with for the Barbarians ? have really helped me find my feet. We are a very tight squad,? said the imposing second row.

But how did a talented South African - capped at school, under-19 and under-21 level ? come to ply his trade down in the harbour town of Toulon?

?Basically I found myself in a position where I didn?t want to be, playing-wise and career-wise, and I thought something fresh would challenge me. I needed a new obstacle and to experience a new way of doing things,? he explained.

?That was really the major reason for my decision ? that I needed a fresh challenge and I needed to get better as a player. I wasn?t getting enough game time (in South Africa) so I decided to come out here and face a new challenge.?

A challenge is certainly what he?s got, with Toulon languishing in the depths of Top 14 and having to face up to the very real possibility of immediate relegation back to Pro D2. So, no regrets then?

?Oh no,? said Skeate. ?I knew I wanted to move to the northern hemisphere because I wanted to play in a forwards-oriented style of rugby that would help me improve quicker. France was the best decision for me, lifestyle-wise and playing-wise.?

Even with the new language?

?I wanted to give myself a test,? said Skeate, who admitted he may not yet be fluent but he has, crucially, learnt all the calls.

Four games may not be enough to make an informed decision on his input just yet but Skeate said he was thriving on the change of playing style.

?Coming from Western Province I?ve experienced two sorts of styles. Recently we?ve been a lot more structured and a lot more detailed, but before we were definitely off the cuff and that?s the kind of style that I wanted to be involved in.

?Structured rugby has its place, but I wanted to be in the French league that was full of flair and running sort of rugby. There?s just so much difference socially and culturally between how the rugby game is played back home and how it is played here. And that?s the point. You go and experience new things and new challenges, then you grow as a person and a player.?

Not that Skeate needs any more growing, physically at least. Standing 2.01m and weighing in at an impressive 114kg he already has all the attributes to become a crowd favourite down at the Stade Felix Mayol, along with fellow countryman Joe van Niekerk.

But he knows that effort and personal excellence won?t be enough to secure his place in the hearts of Toulon?s rugby-mad fraternity. It?s results on the pitch that will really earn this squad their colours.

?We are a very tight squad but we have struggled,? he admitted. ?We haven?t found the form that we needed to. We haven?t won the games that we could have and should have. Dax was an example of that [when Toulon lost 13-6] and I think that is obviously putting pressure on ourselves.

?But I do believe that we can find ourselves in a much better position ? mid-table rather than propping up the bottom. There?s a good vibe in the team but in the back of our minds we really know that we?ve got to win some tough away games and start performing well because we have let ourselves down a little bit up to this point. It would be a disaster if we were to be relegated. I couldn?t think of anything worse.?

Skeate is honest enough to know that pre-season hopes of Heineken Cup qualification have already gone ? ?we just want to finish as high as we can? ? but said he was now relishing the opportunity to work with former Springbok coach Jake White, who arrived for a three-week ?advisory? role on Monday.

?I worked with Jake before when I was part of the South Africa Under-21 squad in 2002/3, and I know Jake pretty well. Obviously I haven?t been involved with him at full international level but I am looking forward to seeing him and asking how I can really improve myself as a player.?

Off the park Skeate is busy making new friends, writing regular columns for his new website (www.rossskeate.com) and pondering when to get a new tattoo. ?Yeah, I need to get more done, it?s looking a bit lonely,? he reasoned.

It?s a busy life being a professional rugby player these days, one the big fella from Cape Town is clearly thriving on. All he needs now is a few league wins.

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