The Return of Nehe Milner-Skudder

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New Zealand All Blacks Media Session
SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 15: Nehe Milner-Skudder of the All Blacks poses for a portrait following a New Zealand All Blacks team announcement at the Swansea RFC on October 15, 2015 in Swansea, United Kingdom. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Last Word On Rugby, by Scott Hornell.

As the beginning of Super Rugby approaches, many factors are being considered. The relatively cool summer, the pre-season schedule and players availability. This includes a man stolen too early in 2016, where injury halted his input but the return of Nehe Milner-Skudder is a study in patience and of a RugbySmart journey.

Last Word On Sport was pleased to interview the All Black, while he was appearing as ACC Ambassador at the Bayleys National Sevens tournament. Taking time to speak about his health and fitness, Milner-Skudder is confident that he has put in the hard work, to be fully fit by Round One of this years Super Rugby competition.

“The injury has come along well. I’m pretty much fit and raring to go. we’re are about a week out from our first preseason game.”

That should be his first hit-out up in Auckland for the ‘Blues Big Day Out’. He is really excited, aiming to feature there before challenging to be included in a squad to be announced for the Brisbane Global Tens tournament. And here, the man’s modesty shines through as he knows; like others, that ‘he must perform on the field’ to be selected for the traveling Hurricanes squad.

Note: recent developments in the DUCO Event has placed indecision over All Black players availability. Even though the promotion and confusion around eligibility [due to the NZRPA collective agreement] there is no doubt from the Hurricanes franchise, that a fit Nehe “will be in Brisbane.”

Milner-Skudder Needs To Prove He is Fighting Fit

The trip to Suncorp Stadium to play in the 14 team tournament will be a highlight of the preseason. And while he is a marketable commodity, just as Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett are, Milner-Skudder will know that he must impress the trainers and coaches, before his name is written down. Even he needs to meet a standard.

And this was clear by some of the methods employed by Milner-Skudder and the Hurricanes squad, from last year leading up to late February. It included here was a mix of traditional: YoYo drills, laps and gym sessions. But he is part of the new breed, who mix other forms like CrossFit, endurance and use of an Victoria University of Wellington hyperbaric chamber, to simulate high elevation and humid temperature conditions.

One session was quite an off-beat method: Gymnastics. “It was quite a lot of fun–a bit different from I guess just being in a gym, and pulling weights on a bar. Our trainers got a group of us to have a go [see Maori Te Reo news item]. Especially coming off the shoulder injury, using the rings and stabilisers, and doing flips on the trampoline. It really helped with the spacial awareness, the positions and situations you get yourself in on a rugby field.”

“It’s been quite refreshing, after my rehab.”

New Year, New Philosopy for Milner-Skudder

This is where the ACC SportsSmart and the New Zealand Rugby endorsed RugbySmart injury prevention and rehabilitation programs align well with the players philosopy. A more holistic approach is needed in 2017, where it is more than just a physical fitness–it is about an entire mind, body and spirit approach. “Yeah definitely, everything is connected. From the mental right through to the physical side of it.”

Alongside Nehe, Sarah Goss and Sonny Bill Williams have endorsed the program, which aims to build in good disciplines of training, pre and post workout programs and kits for coaches across the sports-spectrum. It has benefited Milner-Skudder, in his recovery and in targeting a return in 2017.

Although it does not exclude Milner-Skudder from the traditional hard slog, that is the infamous ‘Surf to Peak’. The annual challenge that begins at the beach of Lyall Bay, before a long ride towards the run up Mount Victoria. An epic 24 kilometer battle of endurance, known to test the brave and the weak. Milner-Skudder told LWOR that he was “rubbish” and never stood a chance against eventual winner Mark Abbot. “He got the big pistons going on the bike, and blitzed us all.”

This brought us back to discussing the opportunities for the new year.

The Return of Nehe Milner-Skudder

In many ways, having him very much ready to take the field, the public will almost expect him to walk into the squad. But this is not how the players sees it; “with all the boys available, we’ve got so many young guys just ‘chomping at the bit’. Seeing how the boys have gone over preseason, they’ll definitely be a lot of competition for spots.”

To be so close to a return, any rugby player will know his team mates only feel the same. And when asked for ‘names to watch out for’ Nehe already knew the answer. “I tell you, keep an eye out for Peter Umaga-Jensen. A couple years out of school, after a year with Wellington provincial rugby. An outside back, he’ll be gunning for my spot I think.”

And it is that pressure, that will ultimately be the litmus test for the player, and his coaches; Chris Boyd and John Plumtree. Internal competition is good, it always has been and with Cory Jane returning from the Japan Top League, the wily-veteran will be another to bring out the best in the return of Milner-Skudder to Super Rugby.

Milner-Skudder Still Holds the Killer Sidestep

Known for his ability to outmaneuver an opponent, coming back from shoulder injury the common thought is that he will still possess that ‘killer’ right-foot sidestep. And as the below video demonstrates, he has lost none of that guile and agility.

Internal competition will bring out the best in him, as it will in the loose forwards and midfield. They will all want to produce the form early in the year, to secure starting places. But also, Nehe wishes to bring more to the role.

“This year; since I was injured, the boys will be able to draw on that [championship] experience. Guys who have that experience, like TJ Perenara, Dane Coles, guys who have been there.”

Goal for Milner-Skudder to Return to the All Blacks

The primary goal for all Super Rugby sides will be to claim the 2017 title. That’s an easy guess, and the same goes for Nehe Milner-Skudder. He was both pleased, and more so envious of how the side progressed last season. A part of the support staff, he was present for the celebrations, but will want to be center stage this year.

In fact, his goals are two-fold. If he did not say, then it is there in the ‘glint in his eye’. A black jersey, and maybe a chance to face the British and Irish Lions. And while the right-winger has the skill and desire, it is whether he can command the position–Israel Dagg has done a fine job in his absence. Regaining that number 14 jersey is a long term goal.

“It doesn’t matter who goes out on the field, everyone can do the job. That makes it quite challenging. Makes you want to be playing at your best.”

Short term, he is aiming for Auckland next weekend. Then Brisbane Tens, before a final friendly match in Waverley. A grassroots affair that maybe just as crucial as Eden Park, or Westpac Stadium in the players mind. Only just re-signed with New Zealand Rugby for three years (see above), his commitment to the game and the fans, is evident from his time in Rotorua signing balls and taking photographs–even though he would no doubt, love to be out on the field already.

For the return of Nehe Milner-Skudder, the next few weeks will be a key step on his road to recovery. And with his attitude, one can only wish him the best.

“Main photo credit”

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