Donald answers his critics with a World Cup
AUCKLAND, 23 Oct. - The critics have had plenty to say about Stephen Donald - and the frequently maligned fly half answered them on Sunday on and off the field.
Most importantly, he kicked the 45th-minute penalty that was enough, barely, to seal New Zealand's triumph in Rugby World Cup 2011.
And after the victory, as his coach and teammates showered him with praise, the man who came into the match as the fourth fly half New Zealand have utilised during the tournament said he felt his performance in the 8-7 win over France proved he deserved to be playing for his country.
Said Donald: "There are people out there who undermined my status as an All Black. To get the chance to prove that I am an All Black is good. I think a World Cup Final is a pretty good place to start.
"I'm just fortunate to get the opportunity to come into such a great team.
"You always dream about it and I never gave up on that dream. When I got called into the squad the dream got closer to being a reality and now I'm here."
Just a kick
He added that when his crucial kick went just inside the post he had no idea how significant it would be - for himself or for his country.
"At the time I didn't think much of it. It was just a kick out in front and I just put it over.
"I haven't kicked a ball in about six weeks. At the time I didn't think it would be important, but it turned out that way.
"My mates are probably thinking 'there's the bloke who was kicking back with a few beers and going whitebaiting with us out in the middle of Eden Park'.
"My preparation hasn't been ideal. When you go whitebaiting you usually take a couple of beers with you. So my fitness was probably not what it could have been. Fortunately I only had to hold out for 50 minutes."
Coach Graham Henry said he had no qualms about bringing Donald on as a replacement for the injured Aaron Cruden.
He came through
"I was nervous the whole game, not just about Stephen Donald. I knew he could handle it," said Henry. "Donald came on and played bloody well. He kicked what turned out to be the winning goal and gave us field position when we needed it."
The veteran centre Ma'a Nonu was equally delighted at Donald's success and his emphatic response to his critics. Said Nonu: "It's funny how the world works. He was at the bottom of the ladder, lots of haters getting him down, but he came through, kicked that goal and won us the World Cup."
Full back Israel Dagg and number 8 Kieran Read also took time out from celebrating New Zealand's win to praise their back-up fly half.
"Stephen Donald played really well. He stood up under the pressure," said Dagg.
Added Read: "Stephen Donald showed a lot of courage. He's gone for a lot, but he just shows a lot of ticker."