Rugby: Donald denied in Bath debut

By Simon Turnbull

Stephen Donald. Photo / Getty Images
Stephen Donald. Photo / Getty Images

For Stephen Donald, the west end of Glasgow yesterday was not quite the same as the garden of Eden Park on Rugby World Cup final day.

Three weeks on from his fast-track ascent from cast-aside zero to New Zealand national hero, the fourth-choice first five-eighth whose penalty ended 24 years of All Black hurt, ultimately clinching that 8-7 victory against France, found himself on the end of an injury-time mugging on his debut in the blue and white of Bath.

As in the World Cup final, when he replaced the crocked Aaron Cruden, Donald started the Heineken Cup Pool Three contest on the sidelines - initially perched on an advertising hoarding, then sitting on a tackle bag in front of the empty main stand. In contrast to Eden Park, which had been filled to the brim with 61,079 folk, there were just 4,208 souls in one stand in the home Glasgow Warriors share with Partick Thistle.

As the clock ticked into overtime the script was going the same way for Donald, the accidental hero who was fishing for whitebait when the emergency call to All Black arms came. Having entered the fray as a 69th-minute replacement for Tom Heathcote directly after the 19-year-old Bath University student had kicked the visitors into an 18-16 lead with his sixth successful penalty out of six, Donald saw his new club fall behind to a penalty from the Glasgow outside-half Duncan Weir.

Then the 27-year-old stepped up to boot a penalty between the uprights from 10 metres in on the left.

That put the English side 21-19 up and, with just a minute of regulation time remaining, it looked like Donald and his right boot had done it again. But then it all went down the plughole for Bath. They were fortunate that referee Christophe Berdos chose to waive the offside rule as they strove to keep Weir out of drop-goal range from the re-start. But when Weir chanced his right boot from 40m and his blocked kick dropped to Nick Abendanon, the Bath full-back slipped, and it bounced to Richie Gray, who applied what proved to be the match-winning touch.

Weir kicked the extras, leaving Donald tasting defeat. For Gray, the mantle of hero came at the end of a week in which he was cast as something of a villain in Scottish rugby, the 6ft 9in lock having announced that he would be leaving Glasgow for Sale at the end of the season. The bottle-blond bombshell distinguished himself yesterday with his trademark swashbuckling tackles as Glasgow scrambled on the back foot for the opening half-hour.

The introduction of Donald was inevitable. "We thought he might be able to handle the pressure,'' Bath's first- team coach Brad Davis remarked, tongue in cheek. Ultimately, though, it was the last-gasp pressure from Glasgow that won the day.

- THE INDEPENDENT

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