Smith backs Donald on eve of Carter's return
July 30, 2009
All Blacks coach Graham Henry embraces fly-half Stephen Donald, New Zealand v Australia, Tri-Nations, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, July 18, 2009
Stephen Donald has been backed by the All Black coaching staff ahead of Saturday's Test in Durban © Getty Images

All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith believes that despite the return to provincial action this weekend of star fly-half Dan Carter any questions around the form of the current holder of the New Zealand jersey, Stephen Donald, should be dismissed.

The 25-year-old Donald had a good match despite the All Blacks losing 28-19 to the Springboks last week, kicking five from six attempts at goal, defending well and marshalling his backline with authority.

Smith says that while he accepts that questions around Carter's return will persist that Donald is now a proven international in his own right.

"He's an international player, genuinely, I feel," Smith said. "He's kicked big goals under pressure, he reads the game well, he's starting to direct it well. We've got a lot of confidence in him."

Donald already enjoys a leadership role within the team, highlighted by his taking charge of a number of team huddles before the Test match in Bloemfontein. It's something that his captain, Richie McCaw, says has come naturally to the Chiefs man.

"It takes time to develop those relationships and that sort of mana within the group to be able to do that. Your confidence grows, the belief of others in you grows and that's the state we're in at the moment with Stephen," said the All Blacks' talisman.

"He's got good understanding and he's at a good position within the team."

Smith said he hadn't needed to prod the 25-year-old to take charge.

"He's got the personality to do it. He's a strong person and that's what you need. It's not like he's someone that you've got to really encourage to talk or encourage to direct."

So, if carter comes through his return to the game for Canterbury unscathed and shows glimpses of his rugby genius will he slot back into the squad for the return leg of the Tri-Nations?

"Who knows? Possibly," Smith said. "At the moment I'm just focusing on this week, on who we've got, not on who we haven't got."

Donald starts opposite South African rugby's 'man of the moment' in Morne Steyn who comes in for the injured Ruan Pienaar. Steyn brings an arguably stronger kicking game to the Springboks but was shown up defensively last week as Conrad Smith easily fended him off in his surge for the try-line.

His captain, John Smit, believes that Steyn's match-winning ability is enormously reassuring to have as a captain.

"Morne has had a fairytale season and he has really excelled in all the teams he has played for," Smit said. "He has had a number of big match moments and each time he has stepped up and passed the test. It says heaps about him as a player. And that composure is very much part of his personality on and off the field."

While Steyn is known for standing deeper in the flyhalf channel and by rights doesn't have quite the flair game of Pienaar, Smit doesn't believe that he lacks the ability to play attacking rugby.

"You don't score 61 points in a Super 14 final without your flyhalf getting the backline going," said Smit in reference to the Bulls' 61-17 demolition of the Chiefs in the Super 14 final this year.


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