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On a night of redemption there was also a little forgiveness. The crowd rose to their feet on 34 minutes, more really to pay tribute to the injured Aaron Cruden but there was a touch of an apology, too, as everyone lingered on their feet to ensure Stephen Donald could just about think all the fuss was for him.

No one, least of all Donald, ever thought he would be dawdling out to play first five for the All Blacks in a World Cup final. Actually, no one wanted to believe it could ever happen and yet just as Dan Carter then Colin Slade collapsed in agony, so too did Cruden leaving the improbable and if everyone is honest, the undesirable.

The subject of derision, most of it undeserved, since he had a meltdown in Hong Kong almost a year ago, Donald has felt the wrath of a heartless and ruthless public more than anyone ever should.

But Eden Park was a stadium of four million. A nation was united and each and every All Black was going to have to play his part. A decision had to be made - forgive and forget, welcome Donald back and cheer him to the rafters? Or let it all out there and then - throw every toy out the pram and believe the dream was over?


As one 60,000 people found it in their hearts to dig deep and let this fallen warrior be the hero of the night. Who ever thought six weeks ago that Donald would kick the winning penalty in the World Cup final?

As sporting theatre it couldn't have been more thrilling. Donald more than any New Zealander deserved the chance at redemption and he took it. His head down and he struck through the ball. It was never going to miss and what impressed even more than his radar being finely tuned was the way he came forward to take the ball; to own the opportunity once the penalty was awarded.

If there had been any doubters; anyone still reserving judgement on whether they were going to throw their soul in with Donald - they were surely converted at that point.

It's tough enough nailing big kicks under pressure at the best of times. But a World Cup final - with France playing with all the rampant force some doubted they possessed? Then there was all the extra pressure he must have been feeling for not being Carter; for not even being Slade or Cruden. He was the fourth choice - the man we all thought had been sent off to Bath and yet here he was entrusted with ending 24 years of pain. What a kick.. What a game by Donald - he can consider himself forgiven. It wasn't just his penalty. He knocked the ball long when he had do and made his tackles. He can look at his winner's medal and know that he, just as much as all the recipients, is deserving of it.

"Didn't he do well, Steve Donald?," said coach Graham Henry with as much pride as surprise. "We can rest in peace."

So can Donald.