All Blacks: Donald in doubt for Italy

By Gregor Paul

A strained hamstring is likely to prevent the All Black coaches from making a tough decision about who to play at first five-eighths this week.

Stephen Donald felt some tightening in his leg and since that hadn't eased after the game, there were now some doubts that he will be in the frame for selection to play Italy.

That might just be a blessing for the coaching panel who would otherwise have to decide whether to stick Donald back on the horse, as it were, or give the under-done Luke McAlister a start with a view to preparing the North Harbour man for a bigger role in the Tri Nations series.

In the aftermath of what was a gutsy win last night, the All Blacks were talking of growth and development, of having taken a huge step along the learning curve.

For the likes of Kieran Read, Tanerau Latimer and Isaac Ross that was unquestionably true.

Donald, too, will hopefully emerge all the wiser for his experience. Yet while he may well have grown, stored some knowledge away for another day, the selectors wanted to see more polish; more authority, more control and more instinctive reactions.

"It was obvious there were a few mistakes," said Donald of his own performance. "But on the whole I was pretty happy."

The conditions were a mitigating factor. Donald is an on-top-of-the-ground player; happier with the ball in front of him, the defence pedalling backwards and room aplenty to wriggle and thrust.

This series against the French has been the antithesis of that. The rush defence has put him under pressure. The ball arrived only milliseconds before the defence and the howling wind and driving rain just added to the difficulty.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith felt that Donald did pretty much what was asked of him.

"I think he fronted physically," said Smith of his first five.

"He ran when he needed to run and we had to play a tactical kicking game. His hamstring tightened so we took him off as a precaution."

Donald wasn't sure how bad the damage to his leg was but he felt that while there was a physical toll, mentally he and the rest of the side will have walked away much stronger.

It was a view shared by Ma'a Nonu who said: "Overall it was a good night. The forwards barred up. We messed up a few opportunities to score, some of the kicks were too far and some of the passing was a bit loose.

"But we are a young side and we have only been together for two weeks so overall I would say we are a pretty happy camp right now."

- Herald on Sunday

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