Nehe Milner-Skudder joined Wellington for the 2020 NPC season. Photos/Getty Images
Nehe Milner-Skudder approaches rugby from a new perspective.
In 2015, he came to prominence at the top level as one of the best outside defenders in the country. Great offers in his first campaign with
Hurricanes in Super Rugby led to the All Blacks being summoned.
He made his international debut in August of that year, scoring two attempts in a 27-19 loss to Australia. A month later, he was in the Rugby World Cup, playing a vital role in the successful All Blacks campaign. He also won the World Rugby Player of the Year award.
It was a rookie season that the young full-back should remember, but he wasn’t able to build on as injuries took over the course of his career. After picking up eight beta caps in 2015, he was only able to add five more caps ahead of Toulon’s planned departure in late 2019.
His hardships did not end there. Fitness issues prevented his French move from taking place. He joined the Highlanders on a two-year deal instead, before spending time this year playing for New York; He continued to play as an NPC for Manawatū during that time.
But among the most important games of his career, his one-time appearance in the centenary match with Ngāti Porou East Coast in 2021 ranks among those topping the list.
“It was really grounded in humility, in terms of reminding me why I play the game and reclaiming that fun,” he told the Herald. “It’s been a roller coaster my whole career; some amazing highs and some really hard lows through injury and things like that.
“When I reflect on the last 12 to 18 months, I have been really fortunate and grateful for the opportunities to go and play with different teams, immerse myself in different environments, and get back to enjoying rugby. That has been the biggest thing.”
This enjoyment of the game has not been consistent for the 31-year-old in recent years.
He admits there were times when he questioned whether he wanted to continue, but conversations with his wife, Hana Tvita Milner, always gave him the reassurance he needed to continue.
Confidence in his own body was often a factor in doubts about his future.
“My mind feels great, but it’s just bringing my body up to speed,” he says. “I feel over the past year that I’ve regained that confidence in my body and regained that hunger and motivation.”
While he is proud of everything he achieved on the pitch and the support that came with him, he says that the support he received in his darkest moments is what he is most proud of.
While recovering from injuries, he was inundated with messages and good wishes from his fellow players, and he says Ardie Savea has been a rock for him in that space, where the two have often communicated.
While it hasn’t always been common for rugby players to show weakness and emotion, Milner Scudder says a remarkable shift has taken place in the field in recent years and players have become more comfortable participating, while questions among their check-in teammates are becoming more specific to spur. A real response.
He says prominent men like Savea and Mike King who use their platforms to spread positive messages about mental health have helped drive this shift, explaining that while social media can have a negative impact, it can also be used as a tool for good. .
“There is definitely a shift happening. When someone asks ‘How’s it going?’ The general response is ‘Yeah, it’s all good’ or ‘Sweet like,’ but we are able to dive a little deeper and be more specific. Like, the question, ‘How’s headspace?’ When guys get hurt, because it’s easy to see. Take my shoulder For example, if you come out of a sling, that progresses, but it’s hard to see what’s going on in your mind and how you feel unless you move it.
“I think it’s about normalizing those struggles and vulnerabilities, and seeing that sometimes it’s not all in sunlight and rainbows, but that’s all fine too.”
Now, after a successful Major League Rugby campaign with New York and confidence in his body, Milner-Skudder has embraced a new challenge.
The birth of his daughter Mila earlier this year prompted her to move to Wellington to participate in the NPC. While he’s been playing for Manawatu in recent years, this has included moving from his home in Wellington, and as a new parent, he says he’s better spending his time enjoying those moments at home.
But while a veteran of the game enters a new squad, Milner-Skudder has made no secret of his desire to compete for game time with coach Leo Crowley, and has made three appearances on the bench for today’s game against Otago in Wellington.
The move to Wellington wasn’t a complete change of scenery, as many of the players and coaches on the team were people he worked with in the past, while some of the younger players got to know through training formations with the Hurricanes.
“As I get a lot older, I’m at that age where there are guys when I first started playing, they were still in middle school or even in elementary school, which is very strange,” he says.
“But it’s a nice reminder that I’m getting a little older. It gives me that perspective and I try to remind the boys as much as possible to enjoy the game as much as possible and not get caught up in stress. We are blessed with our ability to do what we do and there are struggles that come with it, but try not to get involved too much. in it and enjoy the great things that not only rugby but life has to offer us.”
It’s a message that Milner-Scudder embraces as much as he promotes it.
Now a father and husband, with plenty of memorable moments in a successful career to reflect on, he counts his blessings.
In his approach to the game, he does so from a place of gratitude; A place that was not always easy to find in the past.
“In the past, when I was closer to when those injuries happened, I would think ‘far away, imagine if…’ but as I got a little older, other things happening in my life gave me some perspective. Even though rugby gave me some great moments Except that at the end of the day it’s just a game; it’s just a part of my life and part of my journey.”
“I just want to stop playing with fun. I think it begs the question of what that looks like and how you measure fun.
“I love going to training, seeing all my teammates and management, going to the training ground and just being able to express myself. I feel confident in my body after a few tough years.
“I just want to be happy playing the game. Whoever plays or which team, I’m not too upset.”