It’s not the worst-case scenario for a team when one international representative can step into fill the void left by another – but it’s still not an ideal situation for the Highlanders on the eve of their final Super Rugby Aotearoa match of the year.
Already having to cope without the backline talents of Fetuli Paea, Ngatungane Punivai, Freedom Vahaakolo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Connor Garden-Bachop, the Highlanders will now be without Josh Ioane for Friday night’s match with the Hurricanes.
In his place, former Hurricane Nehe Milner-Skudder will make his Highlanders debut in his Super Rugby first match since 2018.
The former All Black made his Super Rugby debut in 2015 and on the back of one outstanding campaign with the Hurricanes, was elevated into the national side for their successful World Cup defence, starting on the right wing in the grand final.
Shoulder injuries have plagued the fleet-footed outside back’s career since 2017, however, 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.
Milner-Skudder had originally signed for French powerhouse Toulon in 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 that same season.
He signed for the Highlanders for last year’s Aotearoa competition but never took the field for his new side and has instead had to wait until this weekend for his first real taste of action after chalking up some minutes in the pre-season.
Milner-Skudder will this weekend combine with Jona Nareki and Sam Gilbert to form a potent back three for the Highlanders. Gilbert has also spent considerable time on the sideline, with his last professional match coming in the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa competition be suffering an ACL injury.
Both he and Milner-Skudder will have plenty of opportunities to test their bodies on Friday night with clear skies forecast for the game in Wellington.
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