The former Sevens star is desperate to show he has got more to offer, writes Evan Pegden.
Declan O'Donnell made his name in sevens last year but now he wants to show on the national provincial championship stage just what he can do in the 15-a-side version of rugby.
O'Donnell, 21, stepped away from sevens last summer with his selection in Dave Rennie's Chiefs squad for this year's Super Rugby, however, one appearance off the bench in the second match of the season was all he managed.
It is early days for the youngster but he is hoping regular starts for Waikato in this season's ITM Cup premiership will enable him to develop his game and show just what he can do as a winger after getting five starts last season.
Without a Super Rugby contract for next season at this stage, he needs to prove himself or it will undoubtedly be back to the IRB Sevens circuit.
O'Donnell certainly made a promising start last weekend in contributing to Waikato's competition-opening win over North Harbour, particularly once he got some ball in his hands in the second half. Now he has to show he can increase his workrate off the ball, go looking for action and make his tackles.
"I learnt a lot with the Chiefs, particularly from all the older guys I look up to like Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams and all that," O'Donnell said.
"I've watched them play the last couple of years and they're the sort of the player that I want to be so I've been working my game off them.
"They have a high workrate and have good feet as wingers, so I'm trying to do that here with the ITM Cup. I'm excited to play and I'll just take each game as it comes."
There is a lot of pent-up playing energy waiting to get out in O'Donnell.
"The whole year I've just been training, getting smashed by the trainers, so I'm pretty sick of that and that's why I'm real excited for the ITM Cup."
He might only be young and raw himself but already he has learnt the patience a young up-and-coming player needs as he tries to make it at this level and is passing it on to even younger players in the Waikato squad such as teenage winger Joe Webber, who only turned 19 during the week.
"I'm just making sure they keep their heads up. Even though you don't make teams you've still got to come to training and bring it every time. I'm just getting excited to help these younger guys come through."
O'Donnell, who made his debut for the New Zealand Sevens team in 2010 and became the star of last year's Wellington Sevens, scoring a hat-trick of tries in the final against England, has certainly not turned his back on the game that launched his career on the international stage.
"Sevens gave me the opportunity that got me to where I am now. I'm not contracted to any Super team for next year so I'll be keeping my options open and if I don't get contracted I might have to go back and do another sevens season.
"But 15s is ultimately my dream game and comes first on my list," he said.
To do that he feels he has to continue to adjust to the bigger code. "Sevens is more of a fast-paced tempo and you've got more space, but with 15s you've actually got to work to get into different positions, especially being on the wing.
"You can't just sit on the wing and stay there. You have to get out and run off nine, run off 10, run inside lines.
"It's all about work off the ball and workrate on the field."
That was certainly the message hammered into the Chiefs' wingers by the coaches and O'Donnell wants to put that into practice for Waikato.
"Last week I was a bit rusty first half, but second half I started to get back into it and so I'm just real excited to play Northland this week," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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