All Black hero Stephen Donald pulls plug on Bath to head to Japan


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The Independent Online

Stephen Donald, the outside-half from New Zealand who kicked the All Blacks to a first world title in almost a quarter of a century before flying halfway round the planet for a lucrative stint in Premiership rugby with Bath, has had enough of life in these parts. He is about to leave the Recreation Ground with a season still left on his very expensive contract and take up employment in Japan, where the weekly demands on mind and body are somewhat less severe.

Bath were said to have agreed a deal of around £500,000 with the former Waikato midfielder for two and a half years' work, yet many West Country supporters felt Donald left his A-game back home in the North Island. He is nobody's fool – All Black selectors do not hand out silver-ferned jerseys with cornflake packets – but his meagre return of 31 first-team appearances has had as much to do with lack of form as lack of fitness.

The former European champions are in the process of developing two high-class No 10s of their own in Tom Heathcote, already capped by Scotland, and Ollie Devoto. They are also expected to sign the much sought-after Leicester youngster George Ford, who has already confirmed that he will quit Welford Road at the end of the current campaign.

Donald is joining the extravagantly named Mitsubishi Dynaboars club, based in the Sagamihara area of Greater Tokyo. Two players familiar to the British rugby audience, the former Newcastle and Wasps outside-half David Walder and the celebrated Welsh wing Shane Williams, are already part of the squad.

"I feel it is time for a new challenge in a new league," the New Zealander said in announcing his plans yesterday, adding that he was committed to aiding his current employers' fight on two fronts through the decisive stage of the European season. Bath play an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final against the Parisian club Stade Français this weekend and are also chasing a top-six finish in the Premiership, which would guarantee them Heineken Cup rugby next term.

Talking of which, Twickenham will stage a Heineken Cup semi-final in May if Saracens beat Ulster at the same venue this weekend. The 2011 English champions have been drawn against the winners of the Toulon-Leicester tie. Harlequins, meanwhile, will play their last-four match in France – at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier – if they beat Munster at the Stoop on Sunday.