Bledisloe Cup 2018: Nehe Milner-Skudder stacks as right choice for All Blacks

The All Blacks pride themselves on bieng the masters of simplification which is why they will find it hard to do anything other than pick Nehe Milner-Skudder as a straight replacement for the injured Rieko Ioane this week.

Blessed with multiple options about how they can reconfigure their back three for the second Bledisloe at Eden Park, one option screams out as the right way to go.

They could shuffle Ben Smith to the wing and inject Jordie Barrett or Damian McKenzie at fullback. Or they could shift Waisake Naholo to the left and try Barrett on the right and keep Smith where he is.

But why make multiple changes when they could make just one – and play Milner-Skudder on the left wing with Naholo staying on the right and Smith at fullback?


And why overlook a player, who at his best is among the more devastating on the planet?

The answer is they probably won‘t because the All Blacks coaches have never lost faith in Milner-Skudder whose run of injuries since he starred at the 2015 World Cup have been cruel and debilitating.

A broken foot and two major shoulder reconstructions wiped out most of 2016 and 2017 and a fair bit of this year‘s Super Rugby campaign.

But in sporadic patches throughout the last three years, when his body held up long enough for him to string a run of games together, there were reminders of his outrageous talent.

Milner-Skudder is a wing with a point of difference and the All Blacks are always on the hunt for those.

There are effectively two moulds for wings in test football at the moment: the power player who is all about strength and speed and the all-round footballer, a Ben Smith-type who can do it all.

Milner-Skudder doesn‘t quite fit either. He‘s an all-round footballer with a much improved kick-catch offering but his main strike weapon is his evasiveness being in possession as he is of one of the most ourtrageous sides-steps in the business.

It‘s his footwork that makes him deadly as Milner-Skudder can beat defenders from a standing start or with virtually no space to work and that makes it difficult for defences to shut him down.

He‘s not a big man in comparison with Ioane and Naholo and yet he breaks tackles making him a compelling mix of everything and not a neat fit in either of the two predominant moulds.

The All Blacks packed him off to Manawatu last weekend to get a bit more game time and with a solid hit out behind him, the reasons to pick Milner-Skudder to start at Eden Park outweigh all other options.

“We stuck Nehe back to Manawatu for a reason – to give him a good hit out,” said All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.

“We have got Bender [Smith] who can go there and we have Damian [McKenzie] and Jordie [Barrett] so that whole combination is something we can play around with.

“He [Milner-Skudder] needed a good run around on the wing. He didn‘t play for us in June and then he went back and played mainly at fullback for injury reasons at the Hurricanes. I have no issues with that but it was good seeing him play and his instincts were sharp and he looked good on the outside channels.”

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