Highlanders confirm Nehe Milner-Skudder signing, All Blacks Sevens star to also join squad

The Highlanders have confirmed the signing of former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder on a two-year deal.

A 1 News report on Tuesday stated that the electric 13-test wing would link up with the 2015 Super Rugby champions for the upcoming Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, and the Dunedin franchise solidified the news on Wednesday evening.

“I’ve heard some unreal things about the club and the culture at the Highlanders,” Milner-Skudder said in a statement.

“I’m really  looking forward to the move to Dunedin and embracing everything it has to offer. I’m excited for this new opportunity and can’t wait to get into some mahi with the boys and lace up the boots for the Highlanders.”

The 29-year-old was an integral member of New Zealand’s success at the 2015 World Cup, scoring eight tries in his first eight tests – including one in the tournament final against Australia – in a year where he was crowned World Rugby breakthrough player of the year.

A five-season veteran and 2016 Super Rugby champion with the Hurricanes, Milner-Skudder’s progress was curtailed by a string of injuries in the ensuing four years, restricting him to just five tests over that period.

As a result, he opted to cash in his talents by signing a deal with French club Toulon ahead of the 2019-20 season, but the ongoing rehabilitation of a problematic shoulder prevented him from linking up with the Top 14 outfit.

The Highlanders have been dealt a series of injuries in the outside backs themselves, with lengthy sideline stints to the likes of Tevita Nabura and Connor Garden-Bachop making a southern switch possible for Milner-Skudder.

“This was a great opportunity to include a  player with his experience into our squad,” Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger said.

“His style of play suits the way the Highlanders play the game, especially under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, and we look forward to welcoming him into the team.”

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark added: “We are excited to welcome Nehe and Hanna [Milner-Skudder’s wife] to the Highlanders family. A player of Nehe’s calibre and his level of professionalism is going to add great value to the team.”

It was revealed earlier on Wednesday that Milner-Skudder rejected the opportunity to rejoin the Hurricanes in favour of the Highlanders.

“We had a contract offer in front of him, but he decided he wanted to go to the Highlanders,” Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland told Newstalk ZB.

“He had a look at all the plusses and minuses of both sides and he decided it was best for Nehe Milner-Skudder to be at the Highlanders.

“That was Skudz’s call and he had to do what was best for him.”

Milner-Skudder isn’t the only new addition to the Highlanders for the 2020 domestic season, with All Blacks Sevens star Vilimoni Koroi also joining the squad to fill the void left by the franchise’s injured players.

The Otago playmaker – who can cover fullback, wing and first-five – last year signed a three-year deal with the Highlanders that was due to commence in 2021 to allow him to pursue his Tokyo Olympics ambitions.

However, the year-long postponement of the Games and cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-20 World Sevens Series due to the coronavirus pandemic means the 22-year-old will assemble with the squad, alongside Milner-Skudder, on Monday.