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'Part of my motivation': Nehe Milner-Skudder 'hopeful' of All Blacks recall

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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More than three years after playing the last of his 13 tests for the All Blacks, Nehe Milner-Skudder is refusing to eliminate the prospect of a test rugby comeback.

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Bouncing back from the depths of injury peril, which sidelined him for two years, to the glitz and glamour of international rugby would certainly be miraculous, especially given Milner-Skudder is without a full-time Super Rugby contract.

Instead, he is currently on an interim training deal with the Hurricanes, who he last played for in 2018, following a barren two-season spell at the Highlanders where he made just one sole appearance.

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That hasn’t dismayed Milner-Skudder, though, who spoke openly in a recent interview with RugbyPass about his eagerness to make a full-fledged return to the newly-formed Super Rugby Pacific with the Hurricanes in 2022.

The 2015 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year doesn’t want to stop there either. In fact, Milner-Skudder says the prospect of an All Blacks recall is fuelling his motivation for a Super Rugby comeback.

That isn’t to say Milner-Skudder isn’t oblivious to the challenges working against his favour. Not only does he have to force his way past the likes of Jordie Barrett, Salesi Rayasi, Julian Savea, Wes Goosen and Ruben Love at the Hurricanes, but he’s also stuck behind a logjam of talent in the national pecking order.

Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Caleb Clarke, Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece and George Bridge are just some of the names that have featured in the outside backs for the All Blacks since the last World Cup, and a slew of others like Rayasi, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Jona Nareki are lurking on the periphery of the squad.

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Trying to usurp those players at the age of 31 while continuing his long-term recovery from a problematic shoulder injury leaves the odds heavily stacked against Milner-Skudder’s chances of a test rugby recall, and he knows it.

However, the World Cup-winning star is approaching the mountainous task at hand with the optimism of a person who has stared through the face of adversity and come out the other side better for it.

“Yeah, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of my motivation,” Milner-Skudder told RugbyPass of his ambition to earn re-selection for the All Blacks.

“But I’m still well aware of where I currently am at. Being realistic of my situation, I think, if I strive to be the best player that I can be, hopefully the outcome of that would be putting on a black jersey again.

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“For me, just being on my feet, just working bloody hard and striving to be the best player I can be. If that’s good enough to be in the All Blacks, then that’ll be absolutely incredible.”

The first step towards making his way back into the All Blacks squad is regular game time, something he was starved of at the Highlanders and in his final year at the Hurricanes in 2019.

Injury and the form of those around him played their parts in keeping Milner-Skudder out of action, but that hasn’t been the case at NPC level for Manawatu.

Milner-Skudder has been a regular presence for the Turbos since last year, making a total of 17 appearances over the past two seasons.

That extensive game time has paid dividends in the recovery and rehabilitation of his shoulder, which he first dislocated while playing for the Hurricanes in 2016 and has struggled with ever since.

“It’s holding up well. Like you were saying, I got through that Manawatu season and strung together a few games and pulled up pretty good after most of them, so it’s doing well,” Milner-Skudder said.

“I’ll just keep chipping away to make sure I stay on top of things so I can go out on the field and give it a good nudge.”

Should continue to stay injury-free and edge his way back into All Blacks contention, Milner-Skudder may be able to offer Ian Foster’s squad some tips after having watched the side from afar over the past few campaigns.

Like most other Kiwi rugby fans, Milner-Skudder watched on as the All Blacks staggered to an underwhelming finish to the 2021 season where they fell to back-to-back defeat at the hands of Ireland and France.

Those losses were compounded by a further loss to the Springboks during the Rugby Championship, putting Foster in the hot seat in the eyes of the New Zealand faithful.

Milner-Skudder has a more measured view on how his former side fared this year, though, as he paid tributes to the herculean efforts of Ireland and France against the Kiwis in Dublin and Paris last month.

“Obviously they were the talk of the town with those last couple of results, but it’s hard because, in the world we live in, everyone has their opinion, so to speak,” he told RugbyPass.

“It’s been a big year for a lot of people. Without trying to make excuses, I think just laying all the facts out about how tough the year was, the travel, and giving credit to the northern hemisphere teams.

“Any team would have had a tough job beating them when they played like Ireland and France on those days, but, as they say, the sun came up the next day and the boys are into their break now and they’ll do all their reviews.”

Milner-Skudder suggested the loss of the South African sides from Super Rugby may have been a factor in the loss to the Springboks, but labelled New Zealand Rugby’s recruitment of Joe Schmidt as an All Blacks selector as an astute piece of business.

“For me, it’s more about understanding the different styles of play. It’s different what they play up there compared to down here. All the Super Rugby teams, even most of the Aussie teams, will play the same way,” Milner-Skudder said.

“South Africa, probably a little bit different, that’s why we struggled against them, but seeing Joe Schmidt involved in that selecting role and maybe advising or helping out with all his expertise, his experience coaching Ireland, that might get the group an understanding around how they play and coming up with different strategies on how to take those teams on.”

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