Sunday, October 17, 2010

Last Chance Saloon: Stephen Donald

My flatmates, and consequently, my brother are the latest beings to jump on me and my pro-Stephen Donald thoughts. Yes Aaron Small, I continue to be outnumbered.

So when, at 6.40pm last night, the majority of the nation heard that he was once more an All Black, I was fairly Chesire-ish in my expression.

Forgive me for lack of technical knowledge once again when it comes to rugby, but the opinion from the Whisky Bar is what I hope can be perceived as a 'supportive considered positive stance with just a hint of healthy cynicism'...

Donald's place on the 30 man squad to the Northern Hemisphere is his last chance. Given that Cruden and Slade have definitely made their names known within the NZRFU and the AB coaching circles, there are no prizes for half-arsed performances.

Donald fell into a slump, a bigger slump than the rest of the team when he was last in black. And the expectation of an All Black is to constantly have the highest level of self-esteem, the utmost confidence, almost flawless performances. And you know what? Fair call. We want to win. Most of the time we do. At the risk of melodramatising losses, four million people suffer when 15 men adorned with a Silver Fern lose. But what is wrong with acknowledging a loss of confidence in one's self? Is it because Pine Tree would never do that? Is it because it's weird when guys start admitting they're not invincible? I think it's brilliant that Donald did what he did, and I also feel strongly that it's a bit rubbish he was out there on his own doing so, although, a crumb of kudos to Henry for stating in today's NZ Herald this:

"I felt for him because he went through a bad patch last year when we did as a team," Henry said. "But he has played the best he has ever played recently."
In an interview last year with NZ Rugby, Donald openly spoke about acknowledging his rut. Graham Henry relegated Donald to 1st Class, but has stayed in touch, and they have both been working on what points needed developing in his game. Whether that is a gritty determination on Donald's part, Henry and Smith believing there is more for us to see, or, dare I say it, a consolation prize for Donald so that he does have one more chance remains to be clarified. Donald's determination has obviously paid off in the selectors' eyes, but the cynic in me, lying just under the support of Donald, thinks that Henry sees this tour as a preliminary gig, and knows that if Donald isn't up to par, then Slade and Cruden remain available and willing for the World Cup.

Also concerning is Daniel Carter's surgery rendering him at the mercy of his specialist. The selectors have claimed the size of the squad to be tight in terms of travel, and yet have gambled on Carter being cleared to play. This leaves Donald as the first five eighth for the team. I don't want to go all soft and say it would be nice to ease Donald into the position, because I think it is a valid point to have the expectation that a player steps up immediately. What is irksome about the potential outcome is that if Donald succumbs to pressure and has a rubbish game, then New Zealand once more starts stoning the poor man. Ideally, Carter would start with Donald coming on at 55, 60 minutes, or Donald starting with a guaranteed 1st half stint and Carter running on after a wedge of orange and some Powerade.

If it was purely on betting whether Donald would ever be an All Black again after the last innings he had, I certainly would be the cat that got the cream today. To an extent, I am, but due to believing this outcome would be, I also believe Donald can do it.
Call it stubbornly backing the underdog if you will. It's not that I doubt him, I just know that he has crumbled before, by his own admission. Further to that though, everyone needs a scape goat, especially the All Black camp (and I don't necessarily mean the camp comes forward with a goat to justify a bad run, they're forced by media and by over zealous kiwis to produce one).

In this game where tactical planning, communication and the stance of every player's psyche aren't always evident, the poor kicking of a No.10, particularly that of Donald, is something that every person watching a game can identify and blame.

In short, whoop whoop for Stephen Donald, and best of luck from one of the 2 in 10 people in New Zealand who are absolutely stoked for you.

PS. Fruean and Weepu, commiserations for very different reasons. 4 years ago, Weepu deserved to be dropped. Today, he does not deserve to be having an ankle bone put back into his leg and hanging out in plaster. I also expect someone is writing the same type of article as I have above in Andy Ellis' defence/praise of return...I'm just saying here that it certainly won't be me.


  1. Well put Laura - just hope his fine form against NPC heavyweights Manawatu, Northland, Tasman and Otago is good enough to take apart Quade Copper and the Wallabies in a few weeks time!


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