It would have to rate as one of the best feel-good stories in sports history. The fall and rise of Stephen Donald, national villain No. 1 after a forgettable performance in 2010, before a dramatic comeback which saw him kick a crucial penalty goal in the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final.
As was reported by the New Zealand Herald, the story caught the eye of Great Southern Television and is to be made into a two-hour television movie. The movie will be backed by New Zealand On Air, who have granted the production company $2.7 million, and will be named The Kick.
The movie will follow the life and rugby career of Donald, while also delving into the rugby psyche of New Zealand and give an insight into the All Blacks camp.
Donald played 23 tests for the All Blacks between 2008 and 2011, predominantly as a first five-eighth, but also filled in on the wing and in the midfield on occasion. He was one of many candidates used in what at times seemed a hopeless search for a backup to the incomparable Daniel Carter. His form at provincial and Super Rugby level was generally high and consequently he was given multiple chances with the national team, but underperformed on each one of these.
This all came to a dramatic heed in 2010, when he was selected once again for the All Blacks end-of-year tour after a very good ITM Cup campaign with Waikato. It was a move that drew plenty of criticism as Colin Slade had performed well when given the chance earlier in the year, while Mike Delaney was also considered a reasonable option.
After the first game the criticisms reached an all time high, being brought on late in the game and seemingly doing whatever he could to lose the game for the All Blacks. A missed penalty goal, a missed tackle and most crucially a missed touch finder were all costly in a 26-24 loss to Australia. It would be the All Blacks only loss in 2010.
The blame was put on Donald and solely Donald. There had been earlier defensive blunders from Ma'a Nonu and Isaia Toeava, but these were forgotten, as was the lack of intensity from the forward pack and the rustiness of the whole team. He was made something of a scapegoat and only played bit-parts in games against Scotland and Wales, while not being used against England or Ireland.
He returned home national villain No. 1, the unwanted man who had decided to leave New Zealand at the conclusion of the 2011 season. His All Black career was over, or so we thought.
Fast-forward 11 months and injuries to Daniel Carter and Colin Slade had seen the All Blacks with no choice to call Donald into their World Cup squad. He was to play the backup role to Aaron Cruden in the semifinal and final, only to be used if absolutely necessary. And that it would become absolutely necessary was unthinkable to anyone in New Zealand.
As it would happen, Cruden was forced to leave the field with injury 30 minutes into the final against France. Enter Stephen Donald.
With the score at 5-0, Donald would step up to the mark to kick the penalty that took the All Black to an 8-0 lead, which France would never catch up to. The rest of his performance was good too, making a couple of nice runs, tackling well, not shying away from contact and keeping a cool head in what was a dramatic game.
When the final whistle sounded with the All Blacks having won 8-7, Donald was hailed as one of the heroes of the effort. His kick has become part of New Zealand rugby folklore and will live on through the ages.
Having already signed with English club Bath, Donald left the country not long after, but he left as a hero, a cult-figure of New Zealand society. Funny what difference a year makes.
But don't just take my word for it, be sure to tune in to witness The Kick first hand.
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