Donald kicks his way in to tour contention
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
BACK IN BLACK?: Stephen Donald is staking a claim for New Zealand’s end of year tour.