15 Feb 2019

Will Super Rugby throw up All Black World Cup bolters?

6:35 am on 15 February 2019

Jandals and bare feet are still the choice of footwear and New Zealand's summer is in full swing, but yes, Super Rugby is about to kick off with the Highlanders playing the Chiefs in Hamilton tonight in the season opener.

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Dan Carter hold the 2015 trophy aloft.

Former All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter hold the 2015 trophy aloft. Photo: Photosport

But really, this year is all about the World Cup.

Players, subconsciously or not, will be worrying less about team glory and more about individual success as they seek to seal a spot in the All Blacks squad for Japan.

What kind of pressure does it add to the players? Will there be any bolters into the World Cup squad?

The Hurricanes wing Nehe Milner-Skudder was the 'bolter' in 2015, bursting onto the scene in Super Rugby before starring in the All Blacks world cup triumph.

It's hard to picture any unknown having quite the same impact this season, but the Crusaders wing George Bridge and the Blues flanker Akira Ioane are mentioned often.

Some pundits claim the day of the bolter has gone, but Crusaders coach Scott Robertson believes one or two could still emerge.

"Bolters normally come where there's a lack of depth in one position or someone gets injured or has a major loss of form, so I think we'll see as the season progresses," Robertson said.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson. Photo: Photosport

But the pressure won't be on potential bolters, with Hurricanes assistant coach and former All Black first-five Carlos Spencer expecting those on the cusp of All Blacks selection to feel the most strain.

"There's added pressure on the players, the World Cup year is a massive year for them. Especially the guys that are on the fringe and think they've got a chance. It gives them an opportunity to prove themselves, so it puts more pressure on those guys."

One of those fringe players is Milner-Skudder, whose career has been blighted by injuries since 2015, but the man with fast feet hasn't given up on a second World Cup.

"100 percent, I'm pretty motivated and pretty driven to achieve some big things. Just knowing that I've been in that environment (and performed) before fuels than hunger and motivation."

With that hunger comes the pressure to perform, pressure that former All Black now Crusaders coach Robertson understands first hand.

"I went to a World Cup as a player, one World Cup in 1999, and was gutted not to go to 2003, but that's a whole new story and a book," Robertson said.

"But to go to a World Cup you've got to play well for the Crusaders, firstly. So it's good to ask how we can do both? Get the elephant in the room out there and talk about it. My job is for them (players) to get to the World Cup and also win a championship with us, so let's go for two trophies and go and get on with it."

Nehe Milner-Skudder.

Can Nehe Milner-Skudder make it to another world cup? Photo: Photosport

Most of last year's All Blacks should be safe, bar injury, though the midfield could have openings and two time World Cup winner Ma'a Nonu is back at the Blues and eyeing an international return at the age of 36.

The Hurricanes and All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, said if anyone can do it, it's Nonu.

"Ma'a is one of the best players I've ever played with. If he has a good season he's got that experience under him of being in those big, pressure situations. You'd never say never, if anyone can do it Skux (Nonu) can do it."

Nonu will have to be more than just skux to earn an All Blacks recall, though he could well be the 'bolter' everyone's looking for.