All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder has marked another milestone in his comeback from a serious shoulder injury which has kept him out of the game for 11 months by playing 50 minutes for the Hurricanes in their pre-season victory over the Blues today.
Milner-Skudder played the first two quarters of 25 minutes at fullback before giving way to Jordie Barrett, and the little 26-year-old came through it unscathed despite being put under pressure at the back early by the Blues inside backs.
"I didn't have too many expectations about today, it was just about putting the jersey and the boots back on, but it was a good feeling," Milner-Skudder said.
"The 50 minutes went pretty quick. I was hoping to get back out there but there's always next week and I'm happy I came through unscathed."
Milner-Skudder, a star at the 2015 World Cup on the wing for the All Blacks, hasn't played any rugby since dislocating a shoulder while playing the Blues at Eden Park in March last year.
He will resume his rehabilitation by travelling with the Hurricanes, who beat the Blues 38-33 at the Auckland franchise's Alexandra Park headquarters today, at next weekend's Global 10s tournament in Brisbane.
Milner-Skudder's reliability, pace and evasiveness were missed by Steve Hansen's team last year, and he is likely to play a big part in the All Blacks' coach's planning ahead of the tour by the British and Irish Lions which starts in June.
"My focus has just been on today and getting back out there," Milner-Skudder said when asked about pushing for higher honours again. "I'm going to take it week by week. I want to play well first for the Hurricanes and see what happens from there."
There was also satisfaction from Blues coach Tana Umaga after a match in which none of his All Blacks players took part in.
Front rowers Pauliasi Manu, Joe Royal and Alex Hodgman played well, with the Hurricanes' scrum under severe pressure at times. Loose forward Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a, who played for the New Zealand under-20s last year, looks to be a bruising runner, and halfback Augustine Pulu and midfielder Pasqualle Dunn both had good moments.
The Blues led 21-12 at halftime before giving away three consecutive tries in the third quarter.
"We're happy with what we saw," Umaga said. "We finished with a young and green group who have been training their butts off for eight weeks...and they gave a good account of themselves. We pretty happy with the attitude of those guys."
One area of improvement will be avoiding giving away so many penalties at the tackle and breakdown, but Umaga said it wasn't a big issue.
"We wanted the referees to be very hard on us so we can adapt...it's not a hard one, our boys just need to be disciplined around that area."