'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.

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home