Appearing every few years when New Zealand needs him most, Stephen Donald once again struck fear into the hearts of our enemies last night. Don Rowe considers the Beaver’s leadership, and places him amongst the finest we’ve ever seen.
Last night Stephen Donald drew a line in the turf over which the entire nation of Wales couldn’t step. Battling a heinous cramp and the vampiric embrace of Father Time, the Beaver defended the considerable honour and dignity of Hamilton and the greater Waikato region on just one leg, securing the first Super Rugby victory over an international team and continuing a trend of performing on a Dumbledore level in terms of clutch performances.
With eight of the Chiefs’ All Blacks missing, Stephen Donald was a conspicuous figure in a lineup of mostly forgettable names. But as he did when Cruden left the field that fateful night in 2011, the Beaver once again rose to the occasion, making hit-ups in midfield, slotting goals without error and even crossing the line in an attempt at an ultimately unsuccessful try near the end of the first half.
It began in the sixth minute, just inside the Welsh half of Waikato Stadium – soon to be renamed the Beaver Dam. Taking the ball from Weber at midfield, Donald stepped off his left, slipped a tackle, snuck an offload back to Weber and preceded to nail the resulting conversion, as well as every kick he attempted thereafter.
On defense he remained tireless, charging the Welsh line deep into their 20th phase on attack. When Welsh captain Sam Warburton left the field shortly into the second half, Beaver remained at his post in a completely Alpha move that will likely see the Welsh captain emotionally and physically diminished in his third game of the week this Saturday.
For those who lived through the era of the ‘Griefs’, when Waikato Stadium seemed permanently shrouded in dark winter fog, this was a particularly proud moment, and a victory easily as deserving of a statue as anything Richard O’Brien ever did.
The Welsh, led by their starting captain, thoroughly thrashed by a B-level ‘baby Chiefs’ team playing under a guy the world spat on and wrote off as finished almost five years ago: the faithful will be rapturous even now, from Ohaupo to The Outback, Mercer to Mount Maunganui.
I expect World Rugby will also update their rankings to seat the Chiefs at their rightful #5, one place above the Welsh and several places north of fellow Beaver victims France.
Elsewhere on the park there were other bursts of brilliance, particularly from Taleni Seu, who managed to strike a Welsh player in the testicles with a well placed grubber in the 74th minute, a kick which also set up Toni Pulu for a sneaky try to seal the deal.
No man can win a game of rugby on his own, and it was a superb effort across the board, but it’s names like Churchill we remember throughout history and not those of the average grunt. Just like Churchill, written off in the First World War as some inept butcher, Stephen Donald returned once in 2011, and last night again in the face of serious shade to deliver the goods when we needed him most.
But the victory cost him dearly. Like Gandalf, who left Middle Earth at the culmination of the Third Age victorious but depleted, Beaver limped from the field in the game’s dying minutes, bathed in glory but in pain nonetheless. He would not convert the last two Chiefs tries, both scored in the last five minutes, but he didn’t need to. Despite creating a small leak in the early second half, the Welsh proved utterly incapable of bursting the dam and never came close to flooding our fertile plateau.
For that, Stephen Donald, we raise a crate bottle of Waikato in your honor, and drink with a hearty “mooloo”.