Donnelly's dumping a winner for Crusaders
OPINION: Tom Donnelly doesn't look ready for the rugby scrapheap.
He only turned 30 last October, has played 15 tests and having made his first-class debut for Otago almost a decade ago has a wealth of intellectual property about the nuances of lineouts, kickoffs and scrummaging lodged inside his skull.
Yet Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph was still content to dump Donnelly.
Midway through last year Joseph grabbed the second rower and told him to start looking for work because he wasn't required in Dunedin any more. Having played 65 matches for the Highlanders over eight seasons, Donnelly began the hunt and after some nibbles from the Hurricanes he signed with the Crusaders.
The exact reasons for Donnelly's departure are murky. Although he was hampered with injury last season, and the form of fellow locks Jarrod Hoeata and Josh Bekhuis was compelling, his sudden decline had conspiracy theorists rubbing their teapots for answers before they sauntered off to the pub to debate this latest rugby mystery.
Meanwhile, Todd Blackadder probably went out and bought a lottery ticket. When Donnelly inked the deal with the Crusaders he ensured their coach was not left short of quality locks in the wake of Brad Thorn's departure to Japan.
Now, after just one round, we are about to be flipped a tasty morsel as we watch Donnelly grapple with his old Highlanders team-mates in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Before the Crusaders faced the Highlanders in their pre-season match in Greymouth recently, Donnelly couldn't suppress a smile as he looked across the halfway line and saw Andrew Hore pull a twisted face.
There will be no such banter at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. Donnelly will be out to prove a point to Joseph and competition points are on offer.
It was when he struggled to make appearances for the Highlanders that Donnelly watched his Rugby World Cup hopes unravel.
They began when Hoeata was selected to make his debut against Fiji in Dunedin. But with Sam Whitelock, Ali Williams, Anthony Boric and Thorn preferred as the World Cup locks, he didn't make the cut for the tournament either.
Although asked to stay in New Zealand during the global tournament in case of injuries, the closest Donnelly got to the action was when he sat at Eden Park and watched the final with his mates.
There is now some irony that his enforced transfer to the Crusaders could rejuvenate his test career.
Against the Blues last Saturday night, he and Whitelock were proactive during their defensive lineouts. They heaped pressure on Keven Mealamu's lineout throws, looked to double-team their jumpers, gobbled some throws and spoiled some others.
With Donnelly filling Thorn's tighthead role and keen to forge a regular partnership with Whitelock, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will be watching their combination with interest as he prepares for the three-test series against Ireland in June.
If Donnelly gets picked, he may thank Joseph for doing him a favour.
- © Fairfax NZ News