Prior to Dan Carter stealing his thunder, Nehe Milner-Skudder was the prize-recruit for Super Rugby Aotearoa. Like Carter, Milner-Skudder is yet to take the field in the new competition – but his debut for the Highlanders is nearing.
Milner-Skudder signed for French powerhouse Toulon at the end of 2019 but was never able to make the trip to Europe, instead rehabilitating his shoulder in New Zealand after undergoing surgery in the middle of last year.
Shoulder injuries have plagued the fleet-footed outside back’s career since 2017 when he first dislocated his right shoulder against the Springboks in Cape Town. Re-injuries effectively prevented Milner-Skudder from being able to mount a challenge for a spot at the 2019 World Cup after announcing himself to the world at the 2015 tournament.
While Milner-Skudder wasn’t able to take up his contract with Toulon, the Highlanders have now presented the 29-year-old with a second opportunity to make a mark in New Zealand.
His contract with the Highlanders was revealed in early May and while we’re now entering the third weekend of matches, Milner-Skudder still hasn’t featured for the southerners.
“We’d love to see him out on the field, but we’re taking a cautious approach,” Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said regarding his new recruit.
“He hasn’t played in 18 months, and we don’t want to set him up to fail. A little bit of that is medical advice and a little bit of that is Nehe as well.
“Once he is fully confident around that he can take those full hits … he’s not quite there yet, but he is in the final stages. Taking more full-on hits, and also falling on the ground in uncontrolled situations is the last bit of contact to tick off.”
Mauger revealed that this weekend’s match with the Blues was the initial target for Milner-Skudder’s Super Rugby Aotearoa debut but now a return against his old side, the Hurricanes, could be on the cards. Milner-Skudder turned down a contract with the Hurricanes to move south.
“It’s coming,” said Mauger. “It’s not good enough to play and that’s what he’s not playing at the moment, and we’re not putting him in that situation.
“Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks …we’re really guided by the medical staff there.”
The Highlanders’ next two matches are against the Crusaders in Christchurch and the Hurricanes in Wellington, before travelling to Hamilton for a rematch with the Chiefs.
Even though Milner-Skudder hasn’t yet been able to make an impact on the field, however, he’s still passing on his ample experience to the Highlanders’ young outside backs.
“We’ve got a young back three,” acknowledged Mauger. “Scotty [Gregory] and Jona [Nareki] and Vili [Koroi], even Josh McKay is still a young man.
“The experience and the knowledge that Nehe’s shared since his time down here has been invaluable for those guys, and I’ve seen a lot of growth in all of them on the back of his contribution.”
The Highlanders play the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday evening.
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