Bath back new star Stephen Donald to hit the ground running
McGeechan says All Black World Cup winner can make an immediate impact with his new club
Tuesday 01 November 2011
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 Sir 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 13 November.
"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."
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.
The final on the weekend of 19/20 May is at Twickenham for the third time, the two previous finals there having been won by Wasps.
England's reigning Premiership champions Saracens accept that they need to win the Heineken Cup before they can claim proper membership of English rugby's elite.
Saracens and former England captain Steve Borthwick, who won the European Challenge Cup with Bath, believes becoming European champions is essential for his club to rank alongside Bath, Leicester and Wasps.
"That is the benchmark, the standard you must achieve after becoming Premiership champions," Borthwick said. "And having handled two wonderful play-off finals against Leicester at Twickenham in the past two seasons, it would be very special to go back there for the Heineken Cup final in May.
"We learnt an awful lot last season, not least from our two pool games against eventual winners Leinster. We came away, beaten at Wembley and in Dublin, and studied videos of the games to see why.
"Don't forget we had a number of young players getting their first taste of Heineken Cup rugby, as were the foreign players who had joined us. But we took everything on board, became a better team for the experience and focused everything on winning the Premiership."
The other English contenders are Leicester, London Irish, Northampton, Gloucester and current Aviva Premiership leaders Harlequins who are first in action when they face Connacht at the Twickenham Stoop on 11 November.
French players took their rugby World Cup campaign into their own hands and largely overlooked "lost" coach Marc Lièvremont to reach the final, Imanol Harinordoquy said.
France faced widespread criticism for their performances during their progress to the final, which they lost to the host nation. "After the defeat against Tonga ... I did not attach too much importance to what Marc said," the No 8 Harinordoquy told rugby newspaper Midi Olympique on Monday. "It was our adventure. It was meant to be the nice experience of 30 men. We had to free ourselves from his supervision."
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