Nehe Milner-Skudder (Getty Images)
Swansea - The meteoric rise of Nehe Milner-Skudder continued on Thursday when he was named on the wing for New Zealand's most important match of the year to date, the Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France.
To go from playing provincial rugby to the very top of the world game in less than 12 months is remarkable enough, but to do it with the world champion All Blacks speaks of a very rare talent.
The reality of what he has achieved is clearly still sinking in.
"I can't really believe that I'm sitting here in front of so many people," Milner-Skudder told reporters on Thursday. "I still pinch myself every day to be (sure) where I am. I'm pretty chuffed."
At 90 kgs, the 24-year-old bucks the modern trend of hulking wingers in the mould of fellow All Black Julian Savea, Fiji's Nemani Nadolo and George North of Wales.
Like his childhood hero Christian Cullen, whose career path he has followed from Manawatu to the Wellington Hurricanes and now the All Blacks, Milner-Skudder makes up for a lack of bulk with blinding pace and amazing agility.
"He's not a big man, but isn't it wonderful for rugby that all shapes and sizes can play the game?" All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said on Thursday.
"He's just reinforcing that. You don't have to be a big 110-120 kg winger as in North or Jules. He's a little guy, he can turn on a sixpence and has got genuine gas."
Playing mostly at fullback, like Cullen, Milner-Skudder displayed those skills on a weekly basis in his first full season of Super Rugby this year.
"He's gone from strength to strength, he's a spectacular player," said his Hurricanes team mate Ma'a Nonu, not a man overly free with public compliments.
Milner-Skudder's form proved irresistible to Hansen, who handed him a test debut against Australia in the Rugby Championship in August and was rewarded with two tries, albeit in a losing cause.
He played again when the All Blacks gained revenge in Auckland a week later, but he was still stunned when he edged out Israel Dagg and Corey Jane for a place in the World Cup squad.
Starts against Argentina, Namibia and Tonga clearly established him as Hansen's first choice right winger and in the latter two matches the young pace merchant again rewarded his coach with a brace.
Even if he was nearly lost to rugby league as a teenager, the All Blacks are in his blood and cousin Buff Milner and uncle George Skudder both wore the famous shirt before him.
"As young fellas in New Zealand, you always aspire to be an All Black," he said.
"That was a dream of mine even playing for (Manawatu). To have a few games under my belt and getting the chance to pull on the jersey again on Saturday, it's big bro."