All Blacks: Best to Luke out, Stephen

By Gregor Paul

Stephen Donald should give his hamstring a friendly little rub this morning. He must, surely, have played his way into starting against the Wallabies at Eden Park by keeping himself tucked high in the stands.

That's good news for him. Bad news for New Zealand. After two troubled outings against France, Donald was the topic of debate.

His supporters were disappearing, beating a hasty retreat as it became apparent he was not the man around whom this side can be built. His kicking game is neither long enough, nor sophisticated enough.

His reading of the play is not instinctive and on a wet night in Auckland, you wouldn't back him to push the Wallabies into dark corners and ask them to play their way out.

Then McAlister had his turn last night. And he was worse. A lot worse. We all know McAlister can play. He's a gifted talent, blessed with all he needs to cut open a defence.

But he's a second five. He's never convinced in the No 10 jersey, the technical and tactical demands being too great for his instinctive urges and desire to back himself.

It was hard not feel for him. Already the subject of scorn in Christchurch for having the temerity to reside in Auckland and to have kept local favourite Aaron Mauger out of the side in 2007, he sent tempers to boiling point with an ugly 40 minutes.

You could see the crowd was getting to him. With every mistake he tried hard to correct it only to bloop again.

It was tough on a player whose attitude is spot on and desire to succeed so obvious.

Nevertheless, McAlister doesn't look ready to play a test at No 10. He's too short of football in general and having played mainly at centre for Sale, he's damagingly short of specific time in the role.

Graham Henry admitted it had been a trying 80 minutes for his protégé. "I think he got better as the game went on. It's been a while since he's played at this level and I think he found it a bit of a challenge."

McAlister said much the same thing, clearly frustrated at the number of little mistakes.

So it must be to Donald that the selectors turn. He is not a lost cause. He is a player with much to offer - it's just that, in a perfect world, he's not the right man to start in the No 10 jersey.

He's a talented strike runner. He challenges defences with his deceptive running that is aided by a nice change of pace. He can find holes and he's got the strength to offload out of contact.

As he showed last year, he can play a role for the All Blacks off the bench and, ideally, this is what the All Blacks would have preferred. Donald's a good sort to bring on in the final quarter when space is a little easier to find and the game is in need of something different.

The equivalent comparison is to say Donald is not an opener, not the man you want to face the new ball, but send him in at number four when much of the shine has been rubbed off and he can play some nice strokes.

Sadly, the All Blacks are a long way from dealing in perfect scenarios. Donald has to start and everyone has to shut their eyes and hope for the best.

- Herald on Sunday

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