Rugby-Electric Milner-Skudder brings New Zealand X factor

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By Greg Stutchbury WELLINGTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Nehe Milner-Skudder's breakout Super Rugby season produced a number of superlatives to describe the influence he had on the Wellington Hurricanes and their drive to the final. Electric, however, is the word that counts the most. Especially given it was said by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen when he named the 24-year-old outside back in June in his extended squad for their World Cup preparation. "He can rip teams apart," Hansen said. "He's electric, he's vibrant and every time he gets the ball he creates something." Milner-Skudder made two test appearances this season, scoring two tries on debut in the 27-19 loss to Australia in Sydney before he set up two tries in the 41-13 victory a week later at Eden Park. While he grabbed headlines for his tries on debut, undoubtedly the two he created in Auckland were the best indicator of the skill-set Hansen was eluding to. He showed not only his jinking side-step, acceleration and ability to keep defenders guessing for the first try but showed the positional play and astute tactical appreciation to seize on space and defensive mismatches for the second. Once considered too small to play rugby, his defensive work has also been sound, with a one-on-one tackle on loose forward David Pocock in Sydney halted a promising Wallabies attack. The focus, however, has been on his attacking skills, which former All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu described in Britain's Guardian newspaper as "lightning in a jar". He not only has fast feet and superb balance, courtesy of a grounding in competitive touch rugby, but runs with the ball in two hands, which creates indecision in defenders not sure to which of his support players he will pass. He is also adept at off-loading in the tackle, no doubt a skill learned when he spent two seasons as a teenager with the Under-20 side for Australia's National Rugby League club the Canterbury Bulldogs. Despite that early promise, he was not offered a professional contract and found himself back playing the 15-man code in his home town of Palmerston North where he made his debut for the Manawatu provincial side in 2011. Injuries stymied his progress before things finally clicked in 2014 when he set New Zealand's provincial competition alight and was promoted from the Hurricanes wider training group into the main squad in 2015. Such was his impact this season, every time he got the ball fans expected him to beat defenders or spark an attack for others to finish. "He is a little bit different and that's what the coaches within this environment have seen," Hurricanes captain and fellow All Black Conrad Smith said. "He's impressed me within the Hurricanes with the way he plays and he's got a smart head on him. He reads the game particularly well so he's got a big future." (Editing by Ed Osmond)