Wellington. The knives were out in New Zealand on Sunday for replacement flyhalf Stephen Donald who was branded the principal villain in the All Blacks 26-24 loss to the Wallabies in Hong Kong.
Former All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick and Richard Loe led the charge, and the lines on call-in radio in the rugby-obsessed country were jammed with fans blaming Donald as they sought a scapegoat for the loss.
“Stephen Donald, I’m sorry to say it again, is not All Black quality,” thundered Loe in his Herald column on Sunday.
“Playing for the All Blacks and playing for your country is an honor and a responsibility and you have to live up to it. I think he proved he can’t.”
Fitzpatrick said Donald may have been great during New Zealand’s domestic championship “but the step up is a big one — and I think he was found wanting.”
The test played in Hong Kong on Saturday snapped the All Blacks’ 15-match unbeaten run and destroyed their bid to overtake Lithuania’s world-record winning sequence of 18 tests.
After a slow start in which they trailed 12-0, the All Blacks appeared to have the game in the bag when they raced to an impressive 24-12 lead heading into a final quarter.
That was when coach Graham Henry made the decision to substitute world-class playmaker Dan Carter with Donald and the match turned immediately.
Carter was hardly off the field when Drew Mitchell scored to put Australia within striking distance at 24-19.
Then, with time almost up, Donald botched a kickable penalty that would have given the All Blacks a nine-point buffer and then failed to kick a turnover ball into touch allowing Australia to counterattack and score the winning try.
Fitzpatrick said it was clear the All Blacks selectors still haven’t found a suitable backup to Carter and expressed surprise that Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden, the young pivots who deputized for Carter in the domestic test season, were not taken on tour.
Sunday Star-Times correspondent Richard Knowler noted: “For Donald, who was playing his first test match since last year’s northern tour, it was a night he will not recall with any great fondness.”
Gregor Paul, writing in the Herald on Sunday, drew parallels with the All Blacks quarterfinal loss to France in the 2007 World Cup. “The All Blacks made mistakes under pressure and paid the ultimate price,” he said.
“In those electric last minutes, it was hard not to let the mind drift to Cardiff three years ago — the All Blacks under the cosh and unable to think straight.”