All Black winger and fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder will play his first Super Rugby game since 2018 when returns to the field for the Highlanders this weekend, and the world just may be reminded of the unique threat that he posed to opposition when at the peak of his powers, writes Oliver Keohane.
Following injury to Highlanders fullback Josh Ioane, Nehe Milner Skudder returns to the playing field against his former team, the Hurricanes, this weekend. After being released from French giants Toulon, Milner-Skudder returned to home soil in 2020, but spent a year battling injury and struggling to regain fitness in Dunedin, missing the Highlanders’ entire inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
Since making his All Black debut in 2015, Milner Skudder has managed only 13 tests, struggling consistently with different injuries over the last six years. However, those 13 tests included 13 starts and 12 tries as well as a memorable two-try and man of the match performance against the Springboks in his first ever test against South Africa.
Milner-Skudder was an unmatched presence for one of the best All Black sides in the world in 2015, scoring six tries in six matches during their World Cup winning campaign that year, and being named one of the players of the tournaments by the Guardian. Unfortunately, there was very little chance for a follow up on first season success and six years of injury means that selectors have to move on the public very easily forgets.
And it is easy to forget the qualities of a very good outside back in the context of a country that pumps out very good outside backs every year, in every region. It would be tough to just quickly name the world class outside backs that New Zealand has gone to battle with since the 2015 World Cup, in the same way that South Africa has a conveyer belt of loose forwards.
But there is something unique about Milner-Skudder, that is worth reminding people of. Coming from a Rugby League background, having played for the Canterbury Bulldogs before moving to Union in New Zealand, Milner-Skudder has a sidestepping ability unmatched by most in the world, and incredibly hard for teams to defend against. No team ever successfully executes a plan to nullify a stepper, the nature of their style is too unpredictable. It is why Cheslin Kolbe continues to rip every defence he plays against, be it the All Blacks, England or a French domestic side. What Milner-Skudder offered New Zealand rugby was something outside of their traditional big left winger and silky, skilled right winger. He was a bit of an anomaly for New Zealand – and world rugby – as an outside back, and shifted from wing to fullback with ease. At 180cm and 90 kilograms he also doesn’t lack in size.
The South African supporter in me is scared of an All Black side that boasts the abilities of Milner- Skudder, but the absolute rugby fan in me hopes that there’s still something left in that tank. Here’s a reminder of what he can do, ahead of his first Super Rugby game in 3 years.