James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Beaver fever in All Black Donald's hometown

Stephen Donald and his World Cup winner's medal with Beaver fans (from left) Emma Bennett, Clare Garvey, Sam Campbell and Hannah Bennett at the Waiuku Rugby Club yesterday. Photo / Steven McNicoll
Stephen Donald and his World Cup winner's medal with Beaver fans (from left) Emma Bennett, Clare Garvey, Sam Campbell and Hannah Bennett at the Waiuku Rugby Club yesterday. Photo / Steven McNicoll

A national outbreak of "Beaver Fever" has been traced back to where it all started - in Stephen Donald's hometown.

The Waiuku Rugby Club ground was last night renamed Beaver Park in honour of a favourite son who stepped up from whitebaiting on the Waikato River to kicking the All Blacks to Rugby World Cup glory.

Hundreds of fans crowded outside the clubrooms to hail the homegrown first five-eighths, now a cult figure after nailing the penalty that clinched the 8-7 win over France.

Children hugged him, and parents thanked Donald for coming home and inspiring their offspring.

The man himself was a little overwhelmed by the attention.

"It's just good they've got someone from their small town involved. If they're looking for inspiration, and it happens to be me, then okay."

Sheryll Donald was among the supporters watching as fans lined up for her son to sign T-shirts, flags, rugby balls, posters - even cellphones.

The family have been celebrating and spending time together since the win on Sunday before Stephen goes to Britain next week to continue his career with Bath.

Asked how she felt when the penalty goal was successful, Mrs Donald said: "Thank God it went over."

Before his warm reception in Waiuku, Donald went to Hamilton's Garden Place with fellow All Blacks Mils Muliaina and Richard Kahui for a civic parade at which hundreds of cheering fans chanted his "Beaver" nickname.

It was yet another chance to bask in the warm afterglow of winning the Webb Ellis Cup.

And Donald was also able to explain why the jersey he wore in the final seemed rather too form-fitting.

"I'd be lying if I said that since the Waikato season finished I'd been hitting the roads pretty hard," he said.

"Last year I fitted that jersey, but obviously with my conditioning window this year, I couldn't."

Donald's story since he was dropped from the All Blacks reads like a movie script.

Facebook pages were calling for his head after a poor performance against the Wallabies in Hong Kong last year and he was out of contention for the Rugby World Cup until injuries eliminated Dan Carter and Colin Slade.

Donald was enjoying a few beers and whitebaiting with a mate on the Waikato River when he got the call from All Black coach Graham Henry.

Donald, with 1.5kg of whitebait, joined the squad as backup for Aaron Cruden, who was injured in the 36th minute of the final.

Donald came on to the field and soon after calmly slotted the penalty goal that won the match.

In Hamilton yesterday, former All Black Matthew Cooper asked Donald how he coped with the pressure of making the kick.

"Well, apparently there was this thing called Beaver fever that was sweeping the country," he said to loud applause and calls of "Yeah, Beaver."

- NZ Herald

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