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If France won’t bring the old school flair, Nehe Milner-Skudder will

“It’s been a pretty hectic year for the fella.”

Sean Farrell reports from Swansea

THE ALL BLACKS love to show off their traditionalist side.

You can see it in the way they present landmark caps out in the open and the way Richie McCaw stands on the field to give heartfelt speeches about team-mates. It’s in Steve Hansen’s jet black coat and they had it to the fore at their training base this week.

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New Zealand rugby stationed their world champions at Swansea RFC, a venue with a clubhouse overlooking a pitch within a cricket oval and the glimmering Swansea Bay.

The club’s hallway has framed photos of its more recent legends, Alun Wyn Jones and Richard Hibbard, but they lead you into a function room with one long wall taken up by memorabilia of tours that passed through once upon a time.

These All Blacks are not the first set through these doors. Far from it. The club historian stands up to address a room of reporters ushered in an hour before Hansen arrived to announce the team. He draws a breath in, but is overtaken by a man who clears his throat while sliding in front of the world’s media to introduce himself as the chairman. Old school indeed.

When the historian gets a second chance, he reels off an impressive list of statistics and records without much signal that this is anything but off the top of his head. The most notable of the bullet points is that in 1935 Swansea were the first club side to defeat the All Blacks. Then they went and drew with them 18 years later.

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Obviously, there’s a lot about the All Blacks that is the antithesis of the game’s traditional side too. Aside from their innovation on the field, they are the most brand aware team in international rugby and no trip to the northern hemisphere is complete if their time isn’t filled with as many commercial events as their squad can cover.

The traditionalists though, can still cling to some vestige of bygone days in the man selected on New Zealand’s right wing for today’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France (8pm).

At 90kg Nehe Milner-Skudder is lightweight only by comparison to some of the monsters prowling the wing in rugby these days, but the Wellington Hurricane more than makes up for any shortcomings with hefty bags full of sheer talent.

“Obviously being next to these two, I’m not the biggest lad going around,” NMS says with a lean back in his chair to point at Ma’a Nonu and Julien Savea to his right and left.

Britain Rugby WCup New Zealand Tonga Source: Jon Super

“So I just need to find a way to not be rag-dolled and get on the end of some pretty big hits. So, yeah, I guess I have to use whatever I can really, use my speed and evasion to get me through.”

Speed, evasion and magical hands. Between his footwork and handling ability, Milner-Skudder has been the genius behind some of Super Rugby’s most ridiculously audacious off-loads and line-breaks this season. France will have been looking on with envious eyes at the flair he can bring in to a team in an era when Les Bleus are off colour.

“Early on in his Manawatu career he was injury prone,” says former Turbos team-mate Aaron Smith.

“He had a lot of bangs, he was basically just doing Captain’s Run and then just getting through games – he’s still a bit like that – but he looks like he’s always ready to go when he hits the field which is all that really matters now as he’s getting a bit older.”

Sonny Bill Williams passes to Nehe Milner-Skudder The exception. Milner-Skudder fluffed his lines when the Puma try-line was begging, but he's made up for that slip since. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

‘Getting older’ is a harsh enough assessment, but Milner-Skudder is approaching his 25th birthday with just one season of Super and international rugby under his belt. The Palmerstown North kid was tempted away to rugby league as a teen and tasted life as a Sydney Bulldog.

These days, however, we’re told Milner-Skudder is humble but the perfect picture of professionalism. He has taken his experience of injury on board and it drives him to take recovery and nutrition very seriously. It’s paying off. A year on from being a star in Manawatu, Milner-Skudder will be a key man in the cauldron that is Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium tonight.

“It’s been a pretty hectic year for the fella. I’m really excited for him, ” Smith continues.

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“The way he plays, everyone gets pretty excited. I know I sure do. Some things he does are just, wow! Rugby’s all about defence these days and planning to stop things, but you can’t negate everything… yeah, just lucky we’re on the same team.”

New Zealand

15. Ben Smith
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder
13. Conrad Smith
12. Ma’a Nonu
11. Julian Savea
10. Daniel Carter
9. Aaron Smith

1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Dane Coles
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Richie McCaw (captain)
8. Kieran Read

Replacements:

16. Keven Mealamu
17. Joe Moody
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Victor Vito
20. Sam Cane
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
22. Beauden Barrett
23. Sonny Bill Williams

France

15. Scott Spedding
14. Noa Nakaitaci
13. Alexandre Dumoulin
12. Wesley Fofana
11. Brice Dulin
10. Frederic Michalak
9. Morgan Parra

1. Eddy Ben Arous
2. Guilhem Guirado
3. Rabah Slimani
4. Pascal Pape
5. Yoann Maestri
6. Thierry Dusautoir (captain)
7. Bernard Le Roux
8. Louis Picamoles

Replacements:

16. Dimitri Szarzewski
17. Vincent Debaty
18. Nicolas Mas
19. Damien Chouly
20. Yannick Nyanga
21. Rory Kockott
22. Remi Tales
23. Mathieu Bastareaud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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