Rugby World Cup
Nehe Milner-Skudder bringing ballerinas back into the bulldozing backline
Tom Hamilton
October 17, 2015
Do the All Blacks fear France?

ST HELEN'S, Swansea -- In a land of giants, Nehe Milner-Skudder stands tall despite being one of the smaller players in this Rugby World Cup. It has been the tournament where the more diminutive protagonists have shone through: Samoa had Tim Nanai-Williams, Japan boasted the wonderful Fumiaki Tanaka and New Zealand have Taihape-born Milner-Skudder.

On Thursday Milner-Skudder sat in between Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea after being confirmed on New Zealand's right wing for Saturday's World Cup quarter-final against France in Cardiff. Nonu and Savea will be looking to bulldoze through Les Bleus on Saturday, Milner-Skudder -- weighing in at 90 kilogrammes and standing at 180 cms -- will have to find another way past the wall of Le Tricolor.

© 2015 Jean Catuffe/2015 Jean Catuffe

"I look like a midget compared to them," he said looking at Savea and then Nonu. "That's why I can't do Julian's steamrolling of people. I have to use my feet a bit more. You've got to try and find out what works.

"Growing up I enjoyed playing a bit of touch with my older brother and a lot his mates back at high school that helped develop that skill. I used it a bit over in rugby league. I used to love watching [rugby league great] Benji Marshall. He had an awesome side step so I had to bring that into my game because I can't run over people."

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Marshall's brief spell at the Blues in union was an unmitigated failure; for Milner-Skudder he is already in the success category of cross-code players after he arrived at union from the Bulldogs in 2011. After showing promise at the Manawatu Turbos, he was handed his first Super Rugby start at the Hurricanes last March; six months on following a breath taking campaign and he is starting a World Cup quarter-final.

His first game of this tournament did not go to plan. Against Argentina he looked slightly startled, he dropped the ball with the line beckoning. But his confidence has grown and so has Steve Hansen's faith in the winger. He is the personification of the deviation from the norm of opting for bulldozers over ballerinas.

"He has showed a lot of composure and mental fortitude and he's enthusiastic," Hansen said. "You need people like that in your team and he will work his butt off on Saturday.

"He's not a big man, but isn't it wonderful for rugby that all shapes and sizes can play the game. He is just reinforcing that. You don't have to be a big 105 or 110 kg winger as in George North or Julian Savea. He is a little guy, but he's great on his feet and he can turn on a sixpence. He's got genuine gas."

'He is a little guy, but he's great on his feet and he can turn on a sixpence.'
Nehe Milner-Skudder breaks clear for New Zealand against Australia.© Matt King/Getty Images

Judging on his Super Rugby exploits, he has the ability to sidestep someone in a phone box and his one-handed offloads are accurate and plentiful. He currently sits on six tries in five Tests and while he is following in the more sizeable shoes of Jonah Lomu and Joe Rokocoko, his team-mates are glad he is on their side and not the opposition.

"The way he plays, everyone gets real excited. I know I sure do," All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith said. "Some things he does are, like, 'wow.' Rugby is all about defence these days and having plans for stopping things, but you can't negate everything."

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Nonu added his glowing praise saying he is a "spectacular player" and the centurion Test centre has been a key influence on Milner-Skudder.

"There's a lot of people through all walks of life I've been through that like to stay chilled and relaxed and I guess that's rubbed off onto me," Milner-Skudder said. "I've got good people around me. Ma'a [Nonu] is a bit of a character and he knows how to handle himself pretty well. As well as him there's lots of other guys so I sit back and observe and see how they go about their work. It definitely helps."

On Saturday he will be his normal, calm self. Everything seems to have been taken in his stride and he will have two very proud folk in the stands watching him -- his mother and step father.

"It's massive having them over here. They've done a lot for me. I can't thank them enough. Knowing they'll be in the crowd supporting will be huge." If Milner-Skudder has his way, and sees enough ball, they will have to stay around for another two weekends.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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