Nehe Milner-Skudder could be set for his Highlanders debut in a matter of weeks.
That’s the verdict from head coach Aaron Mauger, who said that the former All Blacks wing could be available for the side’s round eight Suepr Rugby Aotearoa clash against the Blues in Dunedin.
A troublesome shoulder injury has kept Milner-Skudder sidelined since November 2018, but a return to full contact training provides a beacon of hope for the 2015 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.
“Nehe was taking a couple of full shots with Josh Iosefa -Scott, the biggest man in our team, on Wednesday and getting through some work there,” Mauger told media on Friday.
“He was handling those collisions pretty well.
“I’m not sure about next week, but I think he’ll be targeting after the bye.”
The Highlanders will enjoy a bye week after next week’s away clash with the Chiefs, with a home bout against the currently undefeated Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium next up on their schedule the following week.
That isn’t the only news that should excite Highlanders fans, as All Blacks first-five Josh Ioane is expected to be free for selection against the Chiefs after a niggling groin injury has kept him sidelined throughout the entire Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
“Josh is hopefully available next week. Both guys are pretty close,” Mauger said.
The return of both Milner-Skudder and Ioane will be a significant boost for the southern club, which has shown much improvement since their return to action following the COVID-19 lockdown.
A first-up win over the Chiefs has been followed by tightly-contested losses to the Blues and Crusaders, but Mauger’s side will be confident leading into their upcoming encounter with the Hurricanes on Sunday.
The Wellington franchise won their first match of the domestic league last week against the Chiefs, with the return of Jordie Barrett a key factor in their success.
His long-range goal-kicking was a notable threat, and Highlanders assistant coach Riki Flutey noted earlier in the week that his team will need to be vigilant around the breakdown in order to eliminate that aspect of Barrett’s game.
“we’ve been working really closely with all the refs in terms of all the laws around the breakdown,” Flutey said.
“We’re really happy with where we’re at in that area. We want to be focusing on looking for those turnover opportunities if they’re presented to us, so we’re really happy with where our defence is going at the moment.
“We’ve got the ability to defend long periods of phases. The Hurricanes have a lot of attacking threats throughout the field, and if we stay connected, we won’t give them much.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now