Aaron Goile: Who will replace injured Nehe Milner-Skudder for All Blacks' end of year tour?
OPINION: Nehe Milner-Skudder's injury curse will be some other winger's gain, but just who will pick up that bonus flight ticket for the All Blacks' end-of-year tour?
It's a question which may prompt a few big performances out of some fellows on the flanks as the Mitre 10 Cup draws to a close over the next three weeks.
The luckless Milner-Skudder has had his season ended by a dislocated right shoulder, suffered in New Zealand's dramatic 25-24 victory over South Africa in Cape Town on Sunday morning, which saw the All Blacks end the Rugby Championship with a perfect six from six record.
The 26-year-old was squashed in the tackle of Springboks opposite Courtnall Skosan late in the first half, and has been ruled out of rugby for six months, with surgery required. It is his third serious injury in the space of 18 months, having dislocated his left shoulder last season and then breaking a bone in his foot earlier this year.
As bad as it is on a personal level for Milner-Skudder, who had looked the goods in his two-game return to the international fold, it also presents quite a hole for the All Blacks to fill as they look ahead to their remaining tests of the year, considering the personnel they already have sidelined.
Ben Smith is on sabbatical and won't return to action till 2018, while fellow outside backs Israel Dagg (knee) and Jordie Barrett (shoulder) both won't play till next year either.
When the team next take to the field, against the Wallabies in the third Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane on October 21, it is surely Waisake Naholo who will line up in the No 14 jersey, for what would be just the third time this season, after starts in the second test against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington and against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
But outside of the dynamic Fijian, the right-wing options in the current squad are rather limited, with Rieko Ioane remaining the squad's clear first-choice flyer, out on the left. Damian McKenzie has spent a bit of time parked out by the touchline in recent matches when substitutions have been made, while recent addition David Havili could also potentially move from fullback.
But for the end-of-year tour - which begins on November 5 against the Barbarians in London, then sees matches against France in Paris, a French XV in Lyon, Scotland in Edinburgh and Wales in Cardiff - there will be some extra firepower required.
For their four tests in the northern hemisphere last year, the All Blacks took 36 players on tour, which included six outside backs (and Barrett as a non-playing apprentice).
This year you'd presume McKenzie, Havili, Ioane and Naholo will be locked in, so another couple are likely to be required, even with Beauden Barrett an option to go to fullback.
It opens the door up for the return of Julian Savea, who has, in pretty appropriate timing, shifted back to the right wing while captaining Wellington during their domestic campaign.
Having been out of the national selectors' favour since starting in the first test of the year against Samoa and also the third test against the Lions, the 27-year-old has been working away on his form and fitness in the hope of returning to the big stage.
Provided he's in alright shape, Savea's top-level experience could see him utilised and given somewhat of a lifeline at the top level, where he needs just four more five-pointers to hit 50 and overtake Doug Howlett as the All Blacks' top test try-scorer.
Outside of Savea, it could be that another man who has worn the black jersey previously gets another shot - Seta Tamanivalu.
After three test caps off the bench last year when he was playing in the midfield for the Chiefs in Super Rugby, the 25-year-old has morphed into a different option after moving to the Crusaders and being a blockbusting force on the wing - both sides - during the title-winning campaign.
If the All Blacks did choose to overlook this duo and cast the net wider, there's four names which could be worth keeping note of.
Matt Duffie (27) has shown plenty of promise in two years with the Blues and North Harbour, returning to rugby following his six seasons of rugby league with the Melbourne Storm in the NRL. With superb high-ball capability, he presents as the right-wing option the All Blacks tend to like, not to mention his finishing ability.
Tevita Li (22) burst onto the scene with the New Zealand Under-20s in 2014, and while he didn't exactly kick on in quick time, he moved from the Blues to the Highlanders for 2017, and continues to be a decent prospect, playing on the left edge for North Harbour.
George Bridge (22) was with the NZ U20s in 2015, had a breakthrough debut season with the Crusaders in their title-win this year, starting most of the season on the left wing, and is now performing strongly at fullback in his second year with Canterbury, where he leads the competition stats for carries (112), metres (912) and defenders beaten (45).
Braydon Ennor (20) is potentially more of a midfield prospect, having played there for this year's New Zealand Under-20s during their world championship-winning campaign. However, he is enjoying an outstanding first season of Mitre 10 Cup with Canterbury on the left wing, leading the tryscoring (nine), and clean breaks charts (24), and has signed with the Crusaders on a two-year deal.