Donald surprised to catch such a break

From fishing for whitebait at the start of the week to playing in the biggest game in this country for 24 years, Stephen Donald has certainly gone from the outhouse to the penthouse.

The much-maligned Donald, who was called into the All Blacks on Monday after Highlander Colin Slade was bumped out of the World Cup because of injury, is more than a starter's chance of making the match-day 22 to take on Australia in a World Cup semifinal on Sunday at Eden Park.

Donald, who admitted yesterday he was "fairly surprised" to be called into the All Blacks, is likely to be on the bench to take on Australia.

All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith said the selectors would be reluctant to move Piri Weepu to No 10.

So Donald may have to be the reserve for Aaron Cruden, another player called into the squad who looks destined to start.

Donald (27) said he had been enjoying the World Cup greatly as a spectator and had remained fit, as thoughts turned to playing for Bath in the English premiership in a few weeks.

But with Dan Carter and then Slade going down, he is back in the frame, receiving the call from coach Graham Henry while whitebaiting on the Waikato River.

"Fitness-wise I'm pretty confident. I was keeping fit and waiting and hoping the chances would come along," Donald said.

"It is a great environment to walk into and all the guys are pretty excited about what is in front of them."

Donald looked to have done his dash in the black jersey after a forgettable 20 minutes against Australia in Hong Kong last year.

He was roundly criticised after that match but he said yesterday he did not listen to any of that and just concentrated on playing as well as he could.

"Now that I have been given a crack and opportunity here it is something I am very excited about."

Donald was contracted by the New Zealand Rugby Union to stay in the country until after the World Cup.

Smith also admitted yesterday the back-up No 10s in the wider training group for the All Blacks had been exhausted.

It has also been a big change for new Highlanders winger Hosea Gear, also brought into the squad on Monday, to replace the injured Mils Muliaina.

Gear, who signed for the Highlanders, and then became a father of twins last month, admitted the past couple of days had all become quite overwhelming.

"The first thing that came to mind was the pain Mils [Muliaina] was feeling. Having that dream and then having it taken away from you was what I felt straight away. Now I'm back in the frame and really looking forward to that opportunity," Gear said.

"Being called into a World Cup squad is what myself and my family hold quite high. It is almost one of the pinnacles of your rugby career but nothing compares to becoming a dad."

All Black hooker Andrew Hore joked that Gear had now signed for the Maniototo Maggots and would be a good addition to the Central Otago champion.

On a more serious note, Hore said the side had not really had a close look at the Australian scrum, but it had come a long way in the past year.

"They scrummed pretty well against South Africa. We'll talk about that later in the week. At the moment we're just chipping away getting the body right," Hore said.

He admitted the pressure to win was big this weekend, especially reversing the scoreline the last time the sides met when Australia triumphed in Brisbane.

"Anyone who has lived in New Zealand or been here knows the All Blacks are expected to win every game. So it is pretty disappointing when you let yourselves and the country down. That loss took a lot out of the forwards and dented our pride.

"I suppose that is the good thing about professional sport. You don't have to wait too long to right the wrong. If we can do that on Sunday night, that will be pretty good."

 

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