Nehe Milner-Skudder is will be all smiles after winning the right wing berth for the All Blacks to play France in their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal on Saturday .
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Nehe Milner-Skudder’s sharp feet have danced their way onto the much-debated right wing for the All Blacks’ quarterfinal showdown with France at the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff on Sunday morning (NZT).
Milner-Skudder’s selection comes as no major surprise. He’s been a revelation since bursting onto the scene with Manawatu; frequently breezing past defenders in his rookie season with the Hurricanes before making the step up to test level with aplomb, scoring two tries on debut against the Wallabies.
His first match at the World Cup hit a road bump. Shelling a Sonny Bill Williams offload with the line open against Argentina wasn’t ideal, but he quickly shook off that set back and has been rewarded with a start in the biggest match of his career.
Waisake Naholo was the other option, but his comeback from a fractured leg hasn’t materialised as hoped. After an 11-week layoff Naholo was hesitant and appeared to lack confidence in his two starts at the World Cup – one on each wing.
In the end Milner-Skudder’s form was simply irresistible; his six tries in five tests and overall enthusiasm leaving Steve Hansen no choice in the only genuine selection debate of the starting XV.
Milner-Skudder will link with Julian Savea, who returns on the left wing after being rested from the final pool win over Tonga last week.
Elsewhere, Richie McCaw returns from injury to lead the team, pushing Sam Cane to the bench, and Brodie Retallick is back to partner Sam Whitelock at lock, with Luke Romano dropping out of the squad.
In the final of four starting tweaks, Wyatt Crockett replaces veteran loosehead Tony Woodcock, who is out of the tournament with a hamstring tear.
On the bench Hansen sprung a surprise by promoting Joe Moody over Ben Franks. The Canterbury prop arrived in Wales four days ago and is now preparing for a World Cup knockout match.
Hansen has again preferred two loose forwards – Victor Vito and Cane – over specialist locking cover, suggesting mobility is a focus against a big French pack. Charlie Faumuina also returns from a hamstring issue, while Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett are two super-subs in waiting.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow gets the jump on TJ Perenara, confirming his elevation in the halfback pecking order.
“We’re exactly where we want to be — playing a quarterfinal at Millennium Stadium,” Hansen said. “It’s finals footy and we’re hugely excited by that. We’re a team that enjoys a challenge, we’ve had a great week’s preparation and it’s now about putting it out on the park.
“This team has always been about making its own history. We’ve known for a long time that this match-up may be a possibility and we’re really looking forward to it. There are not many better places to play than a packed Millennium Stadium.
“All Blacks-French tests are always intense affairs and we expect this weekend to be no different. The French will be very physical and both teams have plenty to play for. We’re at the time in the tournament where the big boys have to step up to the plate and the team that does this the best will move through to the next round. It’s as simple as that. We can’t wait.”
ALL BLACKS: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Joe Moody, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams .
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