Don­ald kicks his way in to tour con­tention

South Waikato News - - PICK THE WINNERS -

Stephen Don­ald is mak­ing it al­most im­pos­si­ble for the All Blacks se­lec­tors not to take him on the end-of-year tour to Hong Kong and the Bri­tish Isles.

For the past three weeks he has been in sen­sa­tional form for Waikato, not only with the way he’s di­rect­ing play and cre­at­ing his own op­por­tu­ni­ties, but also with his goal kick­ing.

In­cred­i­bly, Don­ald has nailed 22 of his last 23 shots at goal and is now head and shoul­ders above ev­ery other No 10 in the coun­try.

Some ar­gue he has had his op­por­tu­ni­ties in the All Blacks and wasn’t up to it that the fu­ture is with Colin Slade or Aaron Cru­den.

But his form can’t be ig­nored and Gra­ham Henry and co may think he de­serves to have seat on the Air New Zealand flight to Hong Kong.

Don­ald’s form has been all the more re­mark­able con­sid­er­ing he tore a chest mus­cle from the bone in his shoul­der in May and hadn’t played since be­fore mak­ing a 30-minute ap­pear­ance for Waikato against South­land a few weeks ago.

Waikato and All Blacks full­back Mils Mu­li­aina, who played along­side him on Fri­day night, be­lieves Don­ald just keeps im­prov­ing since his re­turn.

‘‘He’s get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter,’’ Mu­li­aina told Sun­day News. ‘‘He’s claim­ing he did that move for the sec­ond try on pur­pose, pulling out a Car­los Spencer by bounc­ing the ball off his knee.

‘‘But Beaver [Don­ald] is di­rect­ing the play re­ally well he’s come back nicely af­ter in­jury.

‘‘Cer­tainly, with the way he’s play­ing, it’s pleas­ing for this en­vi­ron­ment.

‘‘I’m sure that in the back of his mind he will be push­ing for a spot on the end-of-year tour.’’

When quizzed about whether Don­ald should go on tour, Mu­li­aina took the diplo­matic line, say­ing New Zealand are blessed with qual­ity No 10s.

‘‘The good thing now is that there are a num­ber of guys putting their hands up the likes of Colin Slade, Aaron Cru­den and now Beaver.

‘‘It’s great to have so many guys push­ing for that No 10 jersey.’’

Waikato coach Chris Gibbes be­lieves it’s Don­ald’s prepa­ra­tion that has re­sulted in this cur­rent pur­ple patch.

‘‘What I know about Stephen is that he’s pre­pared very well.

‘‘He’s metic­u­lous in his prepa­ra­tion and makes sure that ev­ery­thing is cov­ered,’’ Gibbes said.

‘‘He does a lot of work and when he does that he’s on top of his game. He’s get­ting bet­ter ev­ery week.

‘‘He’s driv­ing our team re­ally well and I’m just proud of the way he’s play­ing at the moment.’’

Gibbes says he’s pleased with how Waikato are trav­el­ling right now.

The win over Otago guar­an­tees them a place in next year’s Premier­ship and makes it in­creas­ingly likely they will be one of the teams in this year’s semi­fi­nals.

‘‘What we’ve shown over the last month or so is that we can hold on and re­tain our pos­ses­sion and keep build­ing for pe­ri­ods of time.

‘‘And when we can do that we can put teams in all sorts of trou­ble,’’ Gibbes said.

‘‘What we’ve got to do is hold on to pos­ses­sion for around three or four phases to en­able us to do that.

‘‘I think we’re get­ting bet­ter down that line.’’ Sun­day News

Photo: WAIKATO TIMES FILE

BACK IN BLACK?: Stephen Don­ald is stak­ing a claim for New Zealand’s end of year tour.

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