Stephen Donald is the Marmite of NZ rugby – tasty to some, black death to others. His career’s misfortune is that he’s been forced to step into Dan Carter’s massive jockey’s billboard shaped shadow and attempt to pick up where the sleepy looking greatest first five ever leaves off. Not an easy thing to do.
There’s a line in Nick Hornby’s fantastic Fever Pitch about Tony Adams “struggling manfully with his limitations”. This is Donald to a tee, he just doesn’t LOOK like the most natural rugby player, all elbows and knee, excruciatingly mouthing “Focus… follow through…” as he lines up another scatter-gun shot at goal. And yet, he’s capable of moments of brilliance – in the 2009 season, he was magnificent, all kick and regathers, surging runs through the middle, consistent goal kicking… but then he went and played for the All Blacks, personally taking the blame for losing the unbeaten record in the last minutes of the Hong Kong test.
Now, he’s as popular with All Blacks fans as Richie McCaw’s ankle injury. While not yet at full Philpott level, he couldn’t be less loved if he’d run Shrek the sheep over with his tractor. That’s why I was so pleased on Saturday night when he steered the Chiefs home (alright, in wobbly fashion) to a win over the Blues. So pleased, I tweeted the crap out of it:
Very pleased. And a bit drunk.
Donald looked delighted afterwards, and I was delighted for him. No, I don’t think he’s an ideal Carter backup either (the Herald is obviously jittery), but he’s what we’ve got until someone else steps up (when Slade’s jaw is fixed maybe?). Fuck it anyway, he’s first five for My Team – and he’s done a bloody good job for us. Screw you guys. I’ll be over the moon when Stephen ‘Beaver’ Donald is free to be what he truly is: a really good super rugby first five, without the pressure of being All Black backup, before taking the money and running to England, where he’ll win three or four Heineken Cups no doubt. Don’t listen to ’em Stephen.