Returning former All Blacks star Nehe Milner-Skudder has opened up about his desperate struggle since bursting onto the test scene in 2015 - revealing a string of injuries forced him to "some dark places" and made him consider giving up the game.
In a open-hearted interview with former teammate Ardie Savea, Milner-Skudder credits his wife Hannah for his resurgence and admits that he came close to quitting.
Milner-Skudder has not played rugby in 18 months, with his last appearance coming for the All Blacks against Japan in November 2018, but recently announced that he would join the Highlanders for Super Rugby Aotearoa, set to start next month.
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The 29-year-old first hit the headlines with his dazzling feet and strong running with Manawatu and the Hurricanes; and scored twice on test debut against the Wallabies in 2015.
He scored ten more times in 12 tests, starring at the 2015 World Cup, before frequent injury troubles hampered his progress. Milner-Skudder signed a lucrative three-year deal with Toulon in 2018 but a shoulder injury kept him from featuring for the French giants.
"It's been a long, long time working my way back from that. I had my first shoulder [injury] back in 2016, so the last four years have been up and down with injuries – getting back from rehab, getting out on the field with setback after setback," Milner-Skudder told Savea on his self-titled podcast.
"At the same time, as a lot of people say, the adversity you go through in those struggles allows you to grow as a person. I'm not saying it doesn't suck and I didn't go to some dark places.
"I felt the weight and the heaviness of not being able to get out there with the brothers, but I feel like I have come out of these tough times with a better understanding of myself and it's put things into perspective."
Milner-Skudder admits feelings of self-doubt and anxiety nearly brought his career to a premature end.
"There were so many times I was crying on my bedroom floor. I was talking to my wife: 'Babe, I've had enough. I'm going to chuck it all in.'
"She was like: 'Nah. Get up. Get on with things'. There was a balance between that and reminding me why I do what I do."
In his prolonged absence, Rieko Ioane, and more recently George Bridge and Sevu Reece, have made the All Blacks' wing positions their own and while a return to the black jersey is unlikely - the possibility of a stint with Aaron Mauger's Highlanders has left fans frothing.
The franchise is playing it safe, however, saying earlier this week that while the fullback spot could be Milner-Skudder's he "continues to rehabilitate with a view to getting back on the field this year".
The Highlanders face the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 13, in the first match of the 10-week Kiwi-only competition, with Beauden Barrett's Blues hosting the Hurricanes the following day.