Super Rugby
Stephen Donald's Chiefs return driven by love, title dreams
Sam Bruce
February 14, 2016
© Getty Images

The whitebait can wait; the Beaver is back.

It may have been swept under the carpet given it broke during the All Blacks' run to a second Rugby World Cup triumph, but Stephen Donald's return to Super Rugby is no small matter.

The hero of the All Blacks' 2011 triumph will don his beloved Chiefs jersey again this season, five years after he last pulled on the red, yellow and black.

The motivation to put his body through the rigours of Super Rugby at 32 years of age? An elusive Super Rugby title and love of a franchise that just feels like home.

"I guess it was a couple of things, I wanted to be back in New Zealand and then obviously the opportunity to play for the Chiefs, they're the team I want to play for," Donald told ESPN.

"It wasn't even an option to think of anywhere else to be fair."

Donald is best remembered for his penalty kick in the All Blacks' 8-7 victory in the final of the 2011 World Cup while the story of his late call-up is now firmly etched in New Zealand folklore.

But the veteran of 85 Super Rugby caps and 23 Tests is happy the 2015 All Blacks now have the limelight, and the story of the phone call he took from then coach Graham Henry while whitebaiting on the Waikato River can be put to bed -- until he takes up the after-dinner speaking circuit.

Just what role Donald plays for the Chiefs in 2016 remains to be seen with the two-time champions having both All Blacks No.10 Aaron Cruden - on the comeback from a serious knee injury - and rising star Damian McKenzie on their books.

Whatever the case, Donald's experience will prove invaluable as coach Dave Rennie oversees a transition period.

"Oh nothing really directed as that at the moment," Donald replied when asked if the coach had offered an instructions.

"Obviously we've got some great first-fives there in Aaron and young Damian; a bit of mentoring and guidance for Damien. But I'm just going to chip away and see what opportunities I get here and there.

"He's [McKenzie] electric, he's young, he's fast, he's strong; he's probably got the world at his feet to be fair, and he's got a huge future.

"There's a lot to like about his game, but I guess it's that blinding pace that he's got and that attacking threat that makes him fairly dangerous."

Stephen Donald is a cult figure in New Zealand due to his 2011 heroics © PA Photos
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The Chiefs currently sit alongside the Hurricanes on the second line of betting with bookmakers, Ubet, behind just 2014 champions, the Waratahs.

The Hamilton franchise will be without All Blacks stars Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam due to NZ All Blacks Sevens commitments while they have also suffered a double blow up front with recruits Nepo Laulala and Dominic Bird going down in the pre-season.

Donald isn't overly concerned by those omissions, preferring instead to focus on the squad's youth development and club culture.

"They've built a great set-up here and a culture, lots of depth, some good young boys who've put in a good pre-season," he said.

"I guess the proof will be in the pudding but I guess everyone at the moment feels pretty happy with where we're at; but obviously once it starts, it's a tough old beast the Super comp."

On what Rennie brings to the franchise he said: "Probably first of all I think he's a good man.

"Obviously the boys have got a lot of faith, a lot of trust, in him and they know where they stand with him and I guess that goes a long way.

"And he's an honest man and I guess, as a player, that's all you can ask for.

"And as I said you know where you stand, and when you know you've got that trust with players and that, that goes a long way.

"And on top of that, I guess he creates great culture here and it's something the boys want to be a part of."

While admitting the pre-season "wasn't as easy as it used to be", Donald has shaken of the injury that curtailed his ITM Cup campaign with Waikato.

Fit and ready - he'll just need the nod from coach. Luckily for Rennie, he won't have to worry if the whitebaiting has been any good.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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