Surprised Donald ready to tackle World Cup
Stephen Donald almost missed his call-up to New Zealand's World Cup squad while out on a fishing trip but is now determined to make the most of the unexpected opportunity.
The 27-year-old was called up by coach Graham "Ted" Henry on Monday in place of Colin Slade, the second All Black flyhalf to be invalided out of the tournament with a groin injury after the totemic Dan Carter.
It was a remarkable turnaround for a player who has always polarised opinion in New Zealand and whose international career most thought was over after he was ommitted from the original 30-man party for the tournament.
Sitting next to Hosea Gear, who has also just joined the squad as a replacement for injured fullback Mils Muliaina, Donald said he never gave up hope.
"I was down the Waikato River whitebaiting," he said when asked how he got the call.
"I think Ted had missed me a couple of times and then I finally got a call from Milsy (Muliaina) and he said 'start answering your phone you idiot' so that was sort of the message I needed.
"I was fairly surprised, obviously I never gave up the dream, but I was fairly surprised considering what's happened," he added.
"I've had a good month off and like everyone else have enjoyed watching the World Cup. Obviously I watched it thinking 'jeez I'd love to be a part of it' and now that opportunity potentially is here."
The opportunity to win his 23rd cap could come as early as Sunday when the All Blacks take on Australia at Eden Park in the World Cup semifinals.
Donald is likely to start on the bench as back-up to Aaron Cruden, who was called up as a squad replacement for Carter and got his chance in last weekend's quarterfinal against Argentina when Slade was injured.
"You've got to remember that two weeks ago, Aaron Cruden was playing around on a skateboard and then last week, after 33 minutes, he was in a World Cup quarterfinal," said assistant coach Wayne Smith, adding that halfback Piri Weepu's ability to play at 10 was unlikely to be tested.
"Piri's been steering us pretty well from nine and I think it would be a big call to change that, so that might give you a bit of insight," he said.
"Both of these players have a great deal of experience, they've come back into it and we're really happy to have players of this quality to bring in."
Donald was part of the wider training group that all teams maintain in case of injury to squad members but Smith conceded that, with Cruden and Donald now called up, their stocks of flyhalves were now exhausted.
"Clearly if there was another injury, we'd have to find someone," he said.
Gear said while he was delighted to get the call, his first thoughts were for Muliaina, whose shoulder injury was sustained as he was winning his 100th cap.
"It's quite overwhelming, but I think the first thing that came to mind was the pain that Milsy was feeling," he said.
"Obviously having your dream and everything taken away from you, I've felt that and that's what I felt straight away."