Key Points:

Stephen Donald will always be marked by Dan Carter.

Donald is lucky on one hand, and unlucky on another.

In rotation and replacement-free ages, he might have suffered the fate of a Warren Gatland, an unused understudy to the peerless Sean Fitzpatrick.

Arriving in the age of Carter though is unlucky for a generation of playmakers - Carter is so revered that the NZRU has bent its residency rules into a convenient word called sabbatical.

Donald makes his debut as the starting All Black first five-eighths in Hong Kong tonight, where he will line up against the razor-sharp Aussie Matt Giteau.

But the man he will be compared to most is alongside Donald in the All Blacks' backline.

Shifting Carter to second five-eighths is like putting Pavarotti in the chorus line.

Wearing the No 10 jersey is the most glamorous job in all of rugby. Names like Ella, Larkham, Lynagh, Mehrtens, Fox, Botica, Spencer, Porta, John, Bennett, Davies, Wilkinson, Botha, Stransky, and the new Argentine whiz Hernandez fill the air when you talk about the great men in this position.

Inside centre though ... Tim Horan was an exceptional exception, and so was Mike Gibson. Will Carling was underrated by many of us, although not by Zinzan Brooke. Smash tackling Joggie Jansen crushed the 1970 All Blacks. Fred Allen, Bill Osborne ... there have been others here and overseas, but they don't twinkle-toe off the tongue like Ella and co do.

First five-eighths - or its more glamorous tag of first five-eighths - is about silver service. Inside centre can be the chance for a tradesman's entrance. In New Zealand, second five-eighths (as we call it) has become a residence or student's flat for wild characters like Walter Little and Luke McAlister, players who might come unstuck if allowed to govern from No 10. It has also been reserved for the glue provided by a dedicated but easily forgotten team man like Warwick Taylor.

Carter has everything you could want in a Horan-like second five-eighths, no doubt about it, from his tackling and tactics to passing, running and kicking. But Carter doesn't want to stay there, no sirree.

He wants his playmaking throne back and pronto, and first five-eighths is so vital a position that you don't dare not play your best man there when it really counts.

The NZRU and its selectors will also be mindful that pinning the poster boy to a lesser wall isn't a long term winner.

So what's the prognosis for Donald? He's hardly been a favourite so far. Until the last Bledisloe game, he'd barely notched up a total of 30 minutes in major tests, with four late cameos against England, Australia and South Africa.

On one hand, he could make a tremendous mark in Hong Kong, and thus further secure a start against France at Carisbrook in June, and on the bench behind Carter after that.

On the other, he could make a hash of it, persuading the selectors there are better No 10 backups.

Much has been made of Donald's 30-minute contribution in the All Blacks' strong finish in Brisbane when Carter was shifted to the centres. But there is a major difference between starting a test and finishing it.

Australia would not have prepared for Donald in Brisbane. The latter stages of test matches are still intense, but some players are fading, concentration wanes, and the flood of reserves disrupts patterns.

The Australians will zero in on Donald in Hong Kong, and their players and coach Robbie Deans will be well aware of his weaknesses.

It would be unfair to call this make or break for Donald, yet it has the potential.

Waiuku, the little south Auckland town of his upbringing, will hold its breath. It was here that Donald grew up under the influence of his father Brett, a highly respected rugby and tennis coach.

Two Counties icons have stood tall in Waiuku rugby, Alan Dawson (an unused test reserve) and Jim Coe. Had luck fallen their way, either might have been All Black tourists, in the way that had luck gone the other way, Donald might have missed out on the black jersey.

The 24-year-old doesn't have outrageous flamboyance or command that is traditional in a test pivot, but perhaps enough of both to cover this up.

His Chiefs don't live up to their name either - they rarely get a foot on the throat and when they do, struggle to keep it there.

Donald comes out of a losing culture, a far cry from the Canterbury production line that has given us Mehrtens and Carter, plus another backline general in Aaron Mauger. The Crusaders are famous for their 80-minute ruthlessness, whereas the Chiefs let seasons slip away before they really begin. It means Donald has no cut-throat finals experience, although the Chiefs specialise in pressured late season runs.

Donald has moderate trickery without being flashy. He is brave and honest with a galloping run and a sense of when to plant the accelerator. Whether he knows how to use his attributes at this level remains to be seen.

His not-too-secret weapon is a lob and regather but this risky ploy could fall flat on the big stage. His value will be reduced automatically, because Carter will still kick the goals.

On his big night, Donald has lost a steadying influence and familiar voice at his side since Chiefs fullback and test veteran Mils Muliaina's late withdrawal. In Muliaina's place is Isaia Toeava, an unknown quantity who has yet to find his best position.

Donald's best chance will be to find, and play within, the limits of his own game, rather than try to rival the famous man outside him.

He'll need to command the ball and the match, but Australia and Deans are as clever as they come so will crowd him far more than the cumbersome Springboks might.

He is facing a test of character on all sides. Donald won't have the time or inclination for this, but if he did, he might thank and curse Carter in the same breath.

The Canterbury man's superstar status and class has opened the door for a rule-breaking hiatus in France, which in turn has helped push Donald into the frontline.

Carter's all-round brilliance has helped further, because he can be included at second five-eighths - a position as close as the moon for predecessors like Mehrtens and Fox, although Spencer could have handled it.

But Donald will always be eclipsed, whether Carter is a quick pass away or on a special pass in Perpignan. Even if Donald revels in the Hong Kong heat, he is only keeping Carter's seat warm.