24 Oct 2011

Donald unlikely hero

11:18 am on 24 October 2011

Unwanted by the All Black selectors and under fire from fans over his past performances, Stephen Donald became an unlikely national hero when he kicked the goal which ultimately decided the Rugby World Cup final.

Donald had not played for New Zealand in almost a year and was overlooked for Graham Henry's World Cup squad but a series of injuries to the team's first fives ended with him making his tournament debut in the final.

Donald was the last first five in the wider training group that all teams retain in case of injury and he was fishing on the Waikato river when he got a call from All Blacks fullback Mils Muliana.

Donald did not play in last weekend's semi-final win over Australia but was retained on the bench for the final in case anything happened to Cruden.

After 34 minutes, Cruden injured his right knee in a tackle and Donald was told to go on.

New Zealand led 5-0 at half-time but could have been ahead by more had halfback Piri Weepu not missed his three shots at goal.

When France gave away a penalty in front of the posts six minutes into the second half, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw told Donald to take the shot, triggering a huge cheer from the crowd who had become nervous about the missed opportunities.

The cheers turned turned to a roar when Donald effortlessly banged the ball straight between the sticks, giving his team 8-0 lead which ultimately proved to be just enough.

For Donald, who is moving to English club Bath for next season, his performance was vindication of the belief he had kept in his own ability after being heavily criticised for his past All Black performances.

Donald says you pride yourself on fronting up and you don't always agree with what's written about you and what's said about you. He says it was potentially his last game for the All Blacks so he wanted to play well and prove he's a genuine All Black.