Milner-Skudder faces another lengthy injury break

Nehe Milner-Skudder braces for impact in the Rugby Championship test against the Springboks last...
Nehe Milner-Skudder braces for impact in the Rugby Championship test against the Springboks last night. Photo:Getty Images
What a cruel blow for Nehe Milner-Skudder.

One of world rugby's great entertainers looks set for another lengthy spell on the sideline after dislocating his shoulder in the All Blacks' drama-filled victory over the Springboks in Cape Town.

Early in this test Milner-Skudder showed exactly why he will be missed so much. Not just by New Zealand rugby fans, either. This is one of the most captivating players to watch with ball in hand; his skills genuinely appreciated the world over.

After receiving the ball on the outside from Ryan Crotty, Milner-Skudder popped twice off his right foot as only he can do and then threw a ridiculous around-the-back flick ball to Aaron Smith. Some people would need a couple of cracks to pull that off in the backyard. Milner-Skudder does it so effortlessly on the big stage.
He may have lost a yard of pace but his infamous step seems no easier to stop even now opposition know it is coming.

Now, unfortunately, we are set to be robbed of seeing him in action, probably for the rest of the season.

The shame of it is Milner-Skudder had just returned to the test arena, and was just hitting form again. He spent almost two years out of the All Blacks - far too long for a bloke of his class.

No doubt he will be frustrated, having recently recovered from the same injury on the other shoulder. Knowing what lies ahead in terms of rehab only makes the initial stage of recovery - coming to grips with another stint on the sideline - more difficult to stomach.

The worry for Milner-Skudder now is the frequency of his injuries. Once an area of the body is damaged it becomes more likely to breakdown again - and shoulders are clearly important in this brutal game.

As good as it is to see players of his diminutive stature, and you can throw Damian McKenzie in the same bracket, cutting teams up, their comparative lack of size makes them vulnerable in sport dominated by giants.

This latest injury came rather innocuously when opposite Courtnall Skosan, not a big guy himself, dove on Milner-Skudder while he was going down in an attempt to re-gather the ball in the seventh extra minute of the bizarrely long first half.

Milner-Skudder is full of character. But even he must be questioning how much longer his body can survive these repeated knocks. The 26-year-old at least has time to put himself back in the frame, with the World Cup still 18 months away.

Waisake Naholo, brilliant in his return last week against the Pumas, will be the immediate beneficiary of Milner-Skudder's misfortune. The All Blacks also have the option of using David Havili on the wing.

But with Israel Dagg already out for the season and Ben Smith on sabbatical, a replacement will be needed ahead of the final Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane in two weeks, and then the end of year tour.

Julian Savea, the 54-test veteran, could be granted a reprieve or the All Blacks may look to include the aerial strengths of North Harbour's Matt Duffie.

For now, the only sure thing is no like-for-like replacement exists anywhere for Milner-Skudder's freakish talents.

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