All Black Donald goes from discard to World Cup hero

Unwanted by the All Black selectors and under fire from fans over his past performances, Stephen...

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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 Sunday's World Cup final.

The 27-year-old had not played for New Zealand in almost a

year and was overlooked for Graham Henry's World Cup squad but a

bizarre series of injuries to the team's flyhalves ended with

him making his tournament debut in the final.

Dan Carter, New Zealand's first-choice number 10, was the

first to go after succumbing to a groin injury. Colin Slade was

promoted to start in his place with Aaron Cruden called up as

his replacement.

When Slade injured his groin in the quarter-final win over

Argentina, Cruden was thrust into the starting side, forcing

coach Graham Henry to find another backup.

Donald was the last flyhalf 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.

"Obviously Ted (Henry) couldn't get hold of me because I

usually don't answer phone calls that I don't know the number

and I'd deleted Ted's number," Donald said.

"Milsy said 'you'd better start answering your phone you fool

cause you're going to be in Auckland in a couple of days."

Noone was more surprised than Donald about his call-up to the

squad and he admitted he was not in the best of shape.

"Most people know when you get whitebaiting you take a few

beers with you too so the fitness probably wasn't what it could

be," he said.

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 went down writhing in pain after he

injured his right knee in a tackle and Donald was told to go on.

"He's got great character and a real team feel and it was

just great the he could come through and kick that goal and play

some good footy in the second half," Henry said. "I'm very

pleased for him."

When Donald went on, he was not to know the key role he would

play in the outcome. New Zealand led 5-0 at halftime but could

have been ahead by more had scrumhalf 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.

"I was pretty proud to get it over," Donald said. "At the

time I didn't think it was going to be that important but as it

turned out it was a pretty significant one."

McCaw said he had had a premonition that Donald would turn

out to be the matchwinner.

"I thought during the week that when he came on he could

easily end up kicking the goal that was the difference," McCaw

said. "He's a hell of a good man and I'm just so pleased for him

that he got this opportunity."

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 criticized for his

past All Black performances.

"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

said. "It was potentially my last game for the All Blacks so I

wanted to play well and prove that I'm a genuine All Black."