Rugby World Cup 2011
NZ coach lauds flyhalf Donald
Stephen Donald (AP)
Auckland - Stephen Donald was lauded as "superb" by coach Graham Henry after the fourth choice flyhalf became a hero as he helped steer the All Blacks to a gripping 8-7 World Cup final win over France here on Sunday.
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Donald, who wasn't named in New Zealand's original 30-man squad and was called up to answer an injury crisis, came into the tense final at Eden Park when Aaron Cruden was forced off with a knee problem late in the first half.
He quickly fitted in and landed a pressure penalty goal in the 46th minute which ultimately proved the difference after France had set up a terrific finish with a converted try by man-of-the-match Thierry Dusautoir a minute later.
Donald, who was unwinding down fishing earlier this month when the call came from through to join the Kiwi squad, became the All Blacks' fourth flyhalf used at the World Cup.
"It's tough to put into words, it hasn't sunk in yet," Donald said after collecting his winner's medal. "I guess it won't for a while. In a couple of weeks, I guess I will look down at this gold medal and be a very proud man."
New Zealand have had wretched luck with number tens at the tournament, losing first-choice playmaker Dan Carter and his understudy Colin Slade, both with groin injuries.
"To lose a guy like Dan Carter (is very difficult) but the next guy stepped up and then the next guy," said All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
"I take my hat off to 'Beaver' (Donald)."
And Henry was delighted by Donald's all-round performance in the final.
"Stephen Donald came on and played bloody well," Henry said. "He kicked what turned out to be the winning goal and gave us field position when we needed it.
"I was nervous the whole game, not about Stephen Donald - I knew he could handle it.
"I'm just delighted for the boys. We've been the top team in the world for a long time, so it's been a long time coming," Henry added after the All Blacks had ended a 24-year wait for a second World Cup title since beating France, 29-9, in the inaugural 1987 final, also at Eden Park.
Cruden was the third No 10 used by New Zealand and starred in last weekend's 20-6 semi-final win over Australia. But he came to grief in the 34th minute on Sunday when he over-extended his right knee in a tackle.
Donald confidently strode up to take over the goal-kicking from Piri Weepu, who missed all his first three shots at the posts.
And Donald, now bound for Bath in the English Premiership, landed the goal to put New Zealand 8-0 up early in the second half and then made a strong burst.
But the French sent Kiwi hearts pounding in the capacity 60 000 crowd when they scored a determined try next to the uprights by inspirational captain Dusautoir.
Francois Trinh-Duc's conversion eased France to within one point before superb defence saw New Zealand to victory.