Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks winged as Milner-Skudder out

Nehe Milner-Skudder  dislocated his shoulder  during the Hurricanes' match with the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Nehe Milner-Skudder dislocated his shoulder during the Hurricanes' match with the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

Only three rounds into Super Rugby and the injury toll affecting outside backs has become a mini-crises from an All Blacks perspective.

Two of the three wings the All Blacks took to the World Cup last year - Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo - are nursing relatively serious injuries and the Milner-Skudder has been ruled out of contention to play in the June tests.

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Israel Dagg hasn't been sighted in 2016 and isn't expected to be in action for some time yet, while Julian Savea and Rene Ranger both look to be short of fitness and sharpness.

If it weren't for the impeccable form of Ben Smith, the man who seems immune to both form fluctuations and injury, the All Black selectors might be feeling a touch of panic.

The loss of Milner-Skudder from the series against Wales is an unexpected blow. He dislocated his shoulder against the Blues and learned this week he will need surgery that will prevent him from taking any further part in Super Rugby.

The selectors would no doubt have had a loose expectation they would go into the three-test series against Wales with Savea on the left wing and Milner-Skudder on the right.

Savea, though not at his sharpest in the opening weeks, should find his edge soon, but Milner-Skudder won't recover in time which is a significant blow.

His ability to beat opponents in a confined space and break the line with his footwork became an important feature of the All Blacks' work last year. There were times when they couldn't get going until the ball arrived in Milner-Skudder's hands and he stepped his way free to ignite the All Blacks attack game.

Naholo would stack as the natural replacement but he too is out of action for a few weeks yet, having broken the same leg he fractured on his test debut in July last year.

Although an undoubted talent, who much like Milner-Skudder is capable of a touch of magic, the issue with Naholo is that he has barely played in the past nine months. Once he returns with the Highlanders, he won't have that long to recover his best form and convince the selectors he is ready.

Arguably the biggest beneficiary of Milner-Skudder's misfortune is Cory Jane. The veteran will now, presumably, have an extended period in the Hurricanes No 14 jersey - the perfect opportunity to show he still has the pace, skills and desire to play at the highest level.

Given the current situation, the selectors will broaden their search beyond Jane. Patrick Osborne and George Moala have both been on the edges of the wider group in recent seasons and have the size and physicality to make an impact.

James Lowe of the Chiefs has started the season well and has a booming left boot while Ranger has come back to New Zealand with ambitions of again playing test rugby.

He'd rather play centre, but the selectors like what he offers as a wing.

- NZ Herald

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