'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.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor