WELLINGTON – Fly-half Stephen Donald will return to Super Rugby at the grand old age of 35, more than seven years after he gained cult status by kicking New Zealand to victory in the 2011 World Cup final, the Waikato Chiefs announced Monday.
Donald, nicknamed Beaver, was a late addition to the Chiefs squad after young pivot Tiaan Falcon ruptured an Achilles tendon, coach Colin Cooper said.
“He is a good conductor of the game and will deliver for the team when provided the opportunity,” Cooper said of Donald, who was New Zealand’s fourth-choice fly-half in 2011 but became an unlikely hero.
Donald was on the outer with the All Blacks before the 2011 World Cup after being blamed for a loss to Australia the previous year, and decided to go fishing rather than watch the tournament.
But after injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade he received a late call-up, which he initially ignored believing it was a prank.
When Aaron Cruden limped off early in the final against France, Donald took to the field, bursting out of a spare shirt belonging to the diminutive Cruden because he had none of his own.
He kicked a wobbly penalty early in the second half which was enough to give New Zealand a tense 8-7 victory and end a 24-year drought for the host nation.
It was his last international and he went on to play with Bath in England before making a temporary return to the Chiefs, captaining them to a win over Warren Gatland’s touring Wales side in 2016.
However, Donald, who has since had stints with three clubs in Japan, will not be the oldest player to take the field in Super Rugby if he does get a game in his latest comeback with the Chiefs.
That honour belongs to tough-as-teak lock Brad Thorn, now coaching the Queensland Reds, who was still playing regularly for Otago Highlanders at 39.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)