There's a powerful emotion running through the changed-up All Blacks side that will play Argentina in Nelson.

It's called gratitude and while it may not be instantly apparent what value that brings, it shouldn't be underestimated.

There are players throughout the team who for one reason or another had periods where they never once imagined they would end up where they have.

There are others who having tasted test football have had to endure longer than they would have liked wondering if it would ever be tasted again.


Adversity has shaped many of the players who are starting in Nelson. It has tested them but not broken them and left them as examples of Friedrich Nietzsche's observation that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

That means there is a group of players deeply respectful of what fate has delivered them.

They understand the special chance they have been given and the need to honour it.

No one who has worked this hard to win selection carries a sense of entitlement into the game.

None of the embattled fringe players need any reminding that they may never get another chance to play a test so it is madness to do anything other than throw their soul into this one.

Take Karl Tu'inukuafe, the loosehead prop making his first start. A few years ago he was told he was perilously close to death – his weight sitting at 175kg and his vital organs, particularly his heart, straining hard under that heft.

He's not just grateful to be playing, he's grateful to be alive.

Shannon Frizell has known mostly poverty and he knows that rugby is his salvation – quite literally a meal ticket.

Shannon Frizell of the All Blacks warms up ahead of the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Getty Images
Shannon Frizell of the All Blacks warms up ahead of the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Getty Images

Hardly a fringe player but captain Kieran Read is playing with the mental freedom of an older athlete who had to consider the possibility that his back injury at the end of last year was going to end his career.

Ngani Laumape was actually dropped from the Rugby Championship squad, only earning a reprieve due to Sonny Bill Williams' on-going injury issues and even Brodie Retallick, the world's best lock, is grateful to be back playing test football again after almost a year out due to injury and personal issues.

But perhaps one of the most grateful players in Nelson will be Nehe Milner-Skudder. The man who was one of the stars of the 2015 World Cup has endured nothing but bad luck
in the last three years.

He has suffered two major shoulder reconstructions and a broken foot that have restricted him to barely a handful of games since he dazzled the world in England.

He's had three consecutive, injury-ravaged years that have tested his mental resolve and physical endurance.

Fate has been unquestionably cruel to him and while he's making his 12th appearance for
the All Blacks, it could easily be his 30th or 40th.

Not that Milner-Skudder is focused at all on what he has lost. He's managed to make peace with what has happened and accept that looking back with anger won't help him.

Instead, he's found it within himself to simply celebrate the fact that he'll be doing something he loves.

"Probably the second time round has been a little bit harder in thinking 'oh no here we go again'," he said about how hard the last few years have been.

"But at the same time using the experiences of what I went through the first time helped. And I guess my mindset was the biggest thing I had to deal with and overcome.

"I had all the right people around me to do my rehab and all that stuff and nailed that. It was a matter of staying positive and that paid off. It is such a good feeling to get through all that hard work.

"Like a lot of things, when you go through a bit of adversity or things don't go your way and you get through them, they do make you a lot stronger and tougher."

While it has been a three-year battle for Milner-Skudder to get himself fit and test-ready, the All Blacks coaches have never doubted he'd come through.

They have never lost their faith in Milner-Skudder and although it was tempting to play him in the third test against France earlier this year, the decision was made to hold off until he'd played more rugby.

Milner-Skudder's game is built on his agility, his speed, his instincts and his confidence – all of which are heightened and honed when he's got ample game time behind him.

"There's no pressure on him because we have got a lot of faith in him and he knows that," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

"He's coming in with confidence, he backs himself and we are backing him to do the job. We are looking forward to seeing him play and he'll light the place up at some point I'm sure.

"He has made himself into a different sort of player. He's not going to run over the top of you. He's going to round you, or step you and he's very nippy. He's worked hard on his high ball catch. He can step on a six-pence he's got a skill set that is unique to him.

"What he's doing is inspiring young kids to say that you can still make it as an All Black even if you are my size."