New Zealand turn on Donald
Stephen Donald (Gallo Images)
Wellington - The knives were out in New Zealand on Sunday for replacement flyhalf Stephen Donald who was branded the principal villain in the All Blacks 24-26 loss to the Wallabies in Hong Kong.
Former All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick and Richard Loe led the charge, and the lines on talkback radio in the rugby-obsessed country were jammed with callers blaming Donald as they sought a scapegoat for the loss.
"Stephen Donald, I'm sorry to say it again, is not All Black quality," thundered Loe in his Herald on Sunday column.
"Playing for the All Blacks and playing for your country is an honour and a responsibility and you have to live up to it. I think he proved he can't."
Fitzgerald said Donald may have been great during New Zealand's domestic championship "but the step up is a big one - and I think he was found wanting."
The Test played in Hong Kong on Saturday snapped the All Blacks 15-match unbeaten run and destroyed their bid to overtake Lithuania's world-record winning sequence of 18 Tests.
After a slow start in which they trailed 0-12, the All Blacks appeared to have the game in the bag when they raced to a 24-12 lead heading into a final quarter.
That was when coach Graham Henry made the decision to substitute his world-class playmaker Dan Carter with Donald and the match turned immediately.
Carter was hardly off the field when Drew Mitchell scored to put Australia within striking distance at 24-19.
Then, with time almost up, Donald first botched a kickable penalty that would have given the All Blacks a nine-point buffer and then failed to kick a turnover ball into touch allowing Australia to counter attack and score the winning try.
"It's to do with pressure. When he doesn't get time and space he really seems to struggle," Radio Sport host Murray Deaker said.
Fitzpatrick said it was clear the All Blacks selectors still haven't found a suitable backup to Carter and expressed surprise that Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden, the young pivots who deputised for Carter in the domestic Test season were not taken on tour.
Sunday Star-Times correspondent Richard Knowler noted that Carter's ability "to run the backline and fire out pinpoint skip passes to his runners ensured the backline ran relatively smoothly, while his defence was also sound.
"For Donald, who was playing his first Test match since last year's northern tour it was a night he will not recall with any great fondness."
Replacement utility back Isaia Toeava was another player fingered as a culprit when he slipped to allow Mitchell his 61st minute try.
"Toeava has been a work in progress for five years now. Might be time to try a different work. This one hasn't progressed much," said Loe.
Gregor Paul, writing in the Herald on Sunday, drew parallels with the All Blacks quarter-final loss to France in the 2007 World Cup.
"The All Blacks made mistakes under pressure and paid the ultimate price," Paul said.
"In those electric last minutes, it was hard not to let the mind drift to Cardiff three years ago - the All Blacks under the cosh and unable to think straight."
But then he, too, pointed to Donald and added: "But that failure to kick the ball out?"