Rugby: Donald's belief stays high, despite a lack of cohesion

By Dylan Cleaver

Stephen Donald says the Chiefs' gameplan is gelling.   Photo / Christine Cornege
Stephen Donald says the Chiefs' gameplan is gelling. Photo / Christine Cornege

As is often the case, it wasn't until the Chiefs sat down to a video nasty of their loss against the Hurricanes that they realised just how apt the old cliche was: "We lost it more than they won it."

The Chiefs were good for long periods but their lack of respect for the ball at crucial periods gave the rusty Hurricanes the scent of victory.

One from four, a 25 per cent win rate, bottom of the New Zealand conference, 13th overall - whichever way you slice it up it's not a great position to be in.

But they're a long way from despair.

"We know we're on the right track," said first five-eighths Stephen Donald. "We're not happy with where we are [on the table], but we know we're not far off it all clicking into place."

Donald has spent most of the week with his foot in the air after taking a blow to his ankle against the Canes.

He didn't run with the team until Wednesday but says it's "good to go".

Which will be of some comfort to coach Ian Foster, who leans heavily on the Papakura-born player to guide his team around the park.

Donald is the sort of player who finds it uncommonly easy to get armchair critics punching talkback numbers into their telephone, mainly because he has not made the most of his opportunities in a black jersey - something he would be the first to admit to.

There are many who believe, also, that Mike Delany deserves more chances to start for the Chiefs in No10, rather than 21, but Foster has demonstrated that when push comes to shove, he prefers Donald's game management and muscularity to the more mercurial Bay of Plenty pivot.

That strength will come in handy against the robust Sharks, who, until last weekend against the Rebels, have shown few weaknesses.

It's a far cry from when they met in round one last season. On that occasion the Chiefs were coming off a final appearance in 2009 and the Sharks had finished a middle-of-the-road year and were to embark on another. The game, at Durban, was to throw up one of the more interesting experiences of Donald's life.

As he prepared to kick a late, sideline conversion that would put the Chiefs ahead 16-15 - they eventually won 19-18 - a bevy of missiles rained down on him, including a jug of Heineken.

"That was nice of the locals," Donald said at the time. "I don't know what their problem was, but I think it was meant to hit the referee [Keith Brown] more than me."

If you were to offer the Chiefs a scenario where they had a last-minute kick to win tomorrow night's match, it would be interesting to see whether they would take it. Probably not, such is their conviction that they are close to stringing together a compelling 80-minute performance.

"It's just little issues holding us back," Donald said.

"We're of the belief we're not far off being a very good side even though we're one from four."

You could say the same about Donald.

He's now reached the stage where he knows he's never going to fully silence the doubters, but his work against the Hurricanes, until he took a knock, was his best of the season.

It came at the right time too, in direct opposition to Aaron Cruden, another fighting for the dubious honour of being back-up to the best No10 in the world, Dan Carter.

Asked whether their was extra motivation to showcase his skills in those sort of situations, Donald chose the safe route.

"I'm just doing my job, putting the blocks in place to keep improving during the year," he said.

- NZ Herald

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