Thursday 13 December 2018

Is this the man Ulster have signed to replace Christian Leali'ifano?

Stephen Donald scored the winning points in the 2011 World Cup final and is now expected to join Ulster.
Stephen Donald scored the winning points in the 2011 World Cup final and is now expected to join Ulster.

Jonathan Bradley

Ulster seem set to ink a short-term deal with All Black World Cup winner Stephen Donald in the coming days.

The province have been in the market for an out-half to take them to the end of the season, given that Christian Leali'ifano will return to Australia at the end of this month upon the conclusion of the Champions Cup pool stages.

Donald, 34, is best remembered as the man who won the 2011 World Cup for New Zealand.

He started his international career as back-up to the irreplaceable Dan Carter in 2008, but looked set to miss out on the World Cup three years later when not selected for the initial squad.

But Carter suffered a groin injury in training during the pool stages while Colin Slade did likewise in the quarter-finals, meaning Donald was summoned from a fishing holiday to don the Silver Fern once again.

And when Aaron Cruden, currently a team-mate of Ruan Pienaar at Montpellier, was forced off in the final, it was up to him to kick the winning points in the 8-7 triumph over France.

He would become be the second member of that winning squad to represent Ulster with prop John Afoa, now of Gloucester, having spent three years in Belfast.

That is not Donald's only link to the province, however.

As a fellow former Waikato Chief, he was captained by Ulster's current head coach Jono Gibbes a little over a decade ago, back when both Kiwis were plying their trade back home.

Having had previous experience of European rugby during a lucrative, but largely unhappy, spell in Bath, the man nicknamed "Beaver" has most recently been playing in Japan.

It is believed he will arrive in Belfast shortly after his club, the Tokyo-based Toshiba Brave Lupus, finish up their league campaign this weekend and would be in line to make his debut for Ulster in February when the Guinness PRO14 returns.

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