'Fisherman' Stephen Donald lands the biggest catch of his life

Fourth-choice fly-half cannot match Carter's skills but he kept his cool when it mattered

So, that's how it's done. The choke-based taunts that have amused the rugby world since 1991 are at an end. As sporting-trivia sadists the globe over will cheerily tell you, it's been 24 years since the All Blacks managed to win a World Cup final. We had to come back to the same ground and the same opponents to end the miserable run. And the secret to winning? Decrease the talent.

Over the years, the All Blacks have developed a habit of turning up to World Cups with the most talent of any squad, and departing sans silverware. Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson – all left the biggest stage without the trophy. So there's no small irony in the decisive kick of a painfully tense World Cup final being landed by Stephen Donald, the fourth-choice fly-half of the nation that gave the world Daniel Carter.

For Carter, rugby is an artform as natural as breathing. For Donald, it is a rote-learnt trade.

Donald's All Black career was in tatters after he flopped against the Wallabies in Hong Kong. That day, he came on for Carter while the All Blacks were ahead and was at the helm when the final whistle signalled defeat. The New Zealand rugby public is swift to condemn and slow to forgive.

Donald is from my hometown, Waiuku (pop: bugger all). His dad, Brett, coached my first XV and would bring his two young sons to training. Stephen was seven and would scamper off to get the ball whenever it got kicked away. He was – and remains – a good kid.

The World Cup hero du jour (soon to grace the No 10 jersey at Bath) learnt the game – and learnt to love the game – at his father's knee. He recieved tips on what a fly-half should do in different situations: his goalkicking stance, tackling technique, tactical vision.

And in the end that's what was needed. When all around was crumbling, Donald was good enough – not brilliant – and steadfastly coolheaded.

When Colin Slade was invalided out of the squad after the quarter-final, Donald was fishing on the Waikato River. He took the field yesterday after another man preferred ahead of him, Aaron Cruden, suffered a knee injury.

"I didn't kick a ball for about six weeks. I was pretty proud to get that one over," Donald said of his match-winning penalty.

His captain, Richie McCaw saw it coming. "I had a thought during the week when he came in that he could easily end up kicking the goal that made the difference," McCaw said. "He's a hell of a good man and I am so pleased for him that he got an opportunity.

"A couple of weeks ago he wouldn't have dreamed of being in a World Cup final and he got to play 50 minutes of it and he said he probably wouldn't have had 51 – 50 was about his limit. Everyone around him made it easy for him but he did the job and that's great."

So, all things considered, we were better off without Carter, eh? Not quite. After two decades of gut-wrenching misery, please excuse us a spell of triumphalism.

Only the French would be daft enough – and brilliant enough – to lose to Tonga and go on to beat the All Blacks in a World Cup final at Eden Park. Had Francois Trinh-Duc's late penalty attempt gone over, even the most gutted Kiwi fan would have acknowledged the Gauls as justified victors.

Rugby tends to come easily for the All Blacks. So, breaking the 20-year drought in such a gut-churning fashion will make New Zealanders better appreciate just how hard it is to win this damn thing.

And it might just make us recognise the virtue of graft over outrageous talent.

Trouble at no 10: Kiwis' quartet

Stephen Donald

Handed an unlikely call-up on 10 October following Slade's groin injury as he fished on the Waikato River. Played most of last night's game, scoring second-half penalty to help secure Cup.

Aaron Cruden

Called up as cover following Carter's withdrawal, the 22-year-old replaced Slade in the quarter-final and began semi-final and final before leaving the field in agony yesterday with a knee injury.

Colin Slade

After three pool appear-ances, the Canterbury fly-half replaced Carter ahead of the final group game but also picked up a groin injury in the quarter-final over Argentina.

Dan Carter

Twenty-nine-year-old began the World Cup as New Zealand's golden boy and main hope but lasted just two pool games, 153 minutes and 21 points before succumbing to a groin injury on 1 October.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Voices
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas