Stephen Donald turns criticism on its head

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 25/10/2011
Stephen Donald
FIONA GOODALL/Fairfax Media
THE SPECIAL MOMENT: Stephen Donald watches his successful penalty kick, which proved to be the difference in the World Cup final.

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Put that wallet away, Stephen Donald. Your fellow Kiwis are only too happy to keep shouting you free beers.

Following his successful penalty kick in the All Blacks' 8-7 win over France in Sunday night's World Cup final at Eden Park, Donald has been elevated into a cult hero.

After the match the fans – probably the same ones who previously slated him for his poor performances – put down their glasses to chant his name in hotel bars while others did the same in the streets.

In the space of 50 minutes the 27-year-old, the fellow once nick-named "Donald Duck" due to his awkward performances on the test stage, had suddenly become the people's hero.

His is a cracking story: not wanted by All Blacks coach Graham Henry for the World Cup, the Bath-bound first-five spent the World Cup fishing and watching the games with his mates in the Waikato. And as it all started to unravel for Henry, Donald inched his way closer to the ultimate prize. Top first five-eighths Dan Carter and Colin Slade were knocked out of the tournament with groin injuries and in the 34th minute of the final the next replacement, Aaron Cruden, suffered a knee injury.

Donald's time had come.

Nerves? Nah, not really, Donald said later. It was more a case of wanting to get out there and seize the moment when the All Blacks were awarded a penalty in the 45th minute.

At just 31 metres from the posts, any other day it was a regulation kick for the first-five.

"It felt good. I was pretty confident standing over it," he later reflected. "At the time I didn't realise the significance of it but it took us out to eight points and at the end of the day that was all we got." For all the criticism that has been tossed his way – and on the social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook it really got feral – Donald said there has been no bitterness.

It is more his family and friends who get bugged by it all.

"It is probably them that get in arguments in pubs and things about me. I just sort of brush it all off," he said.

"I would be pretty suicidal if I took too much notice of what's going on out there. I have always prided myself on fronting up, not trying to prove people wrong, but just trying to do a job."

In the build-up to the final team-mates Mils Muliaina, Jimmy Cowan and Richard Kahui joked to Donald that he would be the bloke who saved his country's skin with a late kick.

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In return, he laughed at them. Rubbish, he said. But no-one is laughing at Stephen Donald now.

And his detractors should be among the first to line up the free pints. "I'll happily take those beers off them too," Donald says

- The Press

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