BLOWN AWAY: Nehe Milner-Skudder has been a revelation for the New Zealand All Blacks at the World Cup.
BLOWN AWAY: Nehe Milner-Skudder has been a revelation for the New Zealand All Blacks at the World Cup. Ross Setfordaap Images

Kiwi winger in running for breakthrough player gong

HE MAY have struggled under the high ball in the 2018 semi-final victory over South Africa, but rookie All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder had shown enough in his previous six appearances to fully justify his nomination for World Rugby's breakthrough player of the year.

The 24-year-old has scored seven tries in his seven matches for New Zealand, including a double on debut against Australia in the 27-19 loss in Sydney in August. The other players nominated were Scotland centre Mark Bennett and Georgia scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze.

Milner-Skudder forced his way into the All Blacks squad this year following Waisake Naholo's leg fracture, and his form has been good enough to retain his place in the No.14 jersey despite Naholo's return in the second game of the tournament.

"I only just found out before I sat down," Milner-Skudder told reporters when asked about his nomination. "I'm blown away. I'm enjoying every minute at the moment and it's a privilege to be nominated for that award."

Despite Steve Hansen being forced to move fullback Ben Smith to the wing after the Springboks successfully targeted Milner-Skudder early in the semi-final, the coach denied the winger had a weakness the opposition had identified.

"They saw something and wanted to kick to Nehe," Hansen said.

"We swapped him and Bender (Smith) over because he's our best high ball catcher. I'm not saying Nehe can't do it, I'm saying let's put the best guy there who can catch it."

Meanwhile Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he believed the diversity of his playing group had contributed to the team's effort in making the final.

"We have people from different lands and origins, people with very different characters," he said.

"I wouldn't say we have anyone from the extreme right (of the political spectrum), but there are people from the extreme left and the centre right. We have the jokers, the lovers, the fighters. I like having people in the team who think differently about everything."

One of the players he was referring to was champion flanker David Pocock, the player of the tournament in the eyes of many observers.

Well known for his outspoken activism on climate change, less than 12 months ago Pocock was arrested and charged during a protest at the site of a coal mine in northwest New South Wales.

The charges included entering enclosed land without lawful excuse and hindering the working of mining equipment, after chaining himself to a digger for 10 hours as part of a blockade at the Maules Creek coal mine.

The charges were subsequently dismissed, with Pocock receiving an official warning from the Australian Rugby Union.

That commitment to a cause has been patently evident in his efforts at this year's World Cup.

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