Wednesday 13 December 2017

Bath backing Kiwi star Donald to hit ground running

Tony Roche

When New Zealand head coach Graham Henry interrupted Stephen Donald's fishing holiday in Waikato last month to invite him back into the World Cup squad, it came as something of a shock.

Having told the Chiefs fly-half that his services were not required at all during the tournament, that not only Dan Carter but two other pivotal play-makers were rated ahead of him, Donald decided it was 22 All Black caps and out.

Instead, he came off the bench for Aaron Cruden during the final against France in Auckland -- and kicked the goal that clinched a laboured but wildly-celebrated 8-7 victory.

Now, Donald's latest attempt at fishing in Waikato has again been interrupted, this time by Bath rugby director Ian McGeechan who wants him at The Rec this weekend to kick-start his new career, hopefully in their opening Heineken Cup Pool Three tie at Glasgow on November 13.

"What happened to me was an unreal experience, coming from fourth-choice No 10 and therefore from virtually nowhere to win a World Cup winner's medal," Donald said. "Being left out altogether was devastating, so I obviously didn't anticipate the outcome.

"I'd always been behind Dan, for about four years, and I knew my chances would be limited. However, when I was told I wasn't wanted at all for the World Cup, I made the decision to make a fresh start with Bath."

Leinster's Pool 3 rivals Bath are anxious to get Donald (27) in action having lost Springbok stand-off Butch James to his homeland, and McGeechan says he has the pedigree to ignite their season, not least in the tournament they last won in 1998. "You don't need to waste time when it comes to dealing with quality players. It is important to get them integrated straight away," said McGeechan at yesterday's launch of the 17th Heineken Cup competition. "Stephen arrives this weekend, and we want to introduce him to our tactics, to the squad and to our ways.

"It's important when someone plays in such a pivotal position to get him up to speed tactically. But it is also important to time things right, so we'll give him at least a week of training before considering when he's ready to start.

"We have signed a first-class All Black, a World Cup winner who has captained Chiefs and who will adjust to the change in his career very quickly. It's the mark of quality players." Donald, who can scarcely complain of weariness, should be in the mix by the time the Heineken Cup kicks off in two weeks.

One All Black who is staying in the southern hemisphere is Sonny Bill Williams, who has signed a one-year deal to remain with the All Blacks until the end of 2012 and agreed to play for the Waikato Chiefs in the next Super Rugby season.

The 26-year-old played at centre and wing to help the All Blacks win the World Cup on home soil earlier this month but had been linked with a move back to rugby league for next year.

"He's a special player who creates some real excitement and interest in the game with his style of rugby," the NZRU's Neil Sorensen said in a statement. (© Independent News Service)

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