Not quite an Oscar winner for the All Blacks

RWC 2011 Final - All Blacks v France, 23 October 2011

Stephen Donald – unlikely Rugby World Cup hero and the subject of a new TV movie

Ah, New Zealand, land of rugby.

There is also New Zealand land of cinematic creations. Sir Peter Jackson is the figurehead of the Kiwi film industry having brought The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to be shot in his homeland.

The Land of the Long White Cloud, having a population at just over four million, a little smaller than Ireland’s shares that same sense of everyone being somehow connected. As in forget six degrees of separation, in New Zealand and Ireland, it is often three or two degrees of separation.

So, it is not particularly surprising that during my travels there for reasons rugby, that I should come across someone who knew Jackson.

The weekend Ireland were playing the All Blacks in Christchurch in June 2012, there was a great buzz around the city as it was the first test match to be played there since the earthquake which had devastated the city in 2011. As a result of this there was increased media attention surrounding the encounter, during all this I met a cameraman working for TVNZ (New Zealand’s equivalent to RTÉ), who knew Jackson when he was a youngster growing up in Wellington.

Apparently as a teenager Jackson used to hang around the TVNZ offices in Wellington looking to pick up tips and spare scraps of film from the cameramen and other production staff there.

As a result of his early connections with the television industry in New Zealand, a number of his Oscar winning crew for the Lord of the Rings films had begun their careers working for the likes of TVNZ.

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Sir Peter Jackson – New Zealand’s biggest movie export

According to the story I heard that weekend in Christchurch, Jackson despite these links, had been publically critical of a lot of Kiwi television content.

Personally, I really enjoyed watching Kiwi television because although some of it could be deemed as a tad kitsch it gave a great sense of “New Zealandness” that really helped me as a writer build up just how much rugby means there.

The appearance of the Kearney brothers on The Late Late Show earlier this year would only be a mere cameo by Kiwi standards. Rob and Dave would probably have something in the vein of their own “Fashion meets Farming” slot on breakfast television if they were from New Zealand!

One of the true kitsch classics of Kiwi television is available here in Ireland. If you are ever at a loose end at around midday, try flicking over to Shortland Street. The soap tells of the lives and loves of the staff of an Auckland hospital.

In terms of Kiwi celebrities, stars of Shorty seemed to rack up even more column inches in New Zealand Women’s Weekly than All Blacks!

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A scene from Kiwi soap Shortland Street

So, it is no surprise then that when it came to casting the first TV movie about the All Blacks 2011 Rugby World Cup win, that quite a few Shorty’s alumni were cast in The Kick.

During that same trip to New Zealand in June 2012, there was also a lot of talk of “Beaver” from local journalists, “You must have seen Beaver play for Bath against Leinster. After the World Cup everybody loves Beaver here…”

Beaver?

Beaver is the nickname former All Blacks fly half Stephen Donald is affectionately known by. The Kick tells his story of being dropped from the national side and then when reinstated due to the injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade, kicking the winning points of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

After his world cup heroics, Donald who was famously fishing for whitebait when Graham Henry called to tell him he was needed by the All Blacks, became something of the cult hero, with his home town Waiuku being renamed, Beaverville.

Despite the marvels of the Internet, I have yet been unable to watch this tale of redemption. However, it would appear The Kick has been making quite a few waves in New Zealand.

The current All Blacks squad even got their own private premier of the film.

While the film was being aired on TVNZ on Sunday, ♯thekick was trending on Twitter. According to reviews, the actor who played Donald was convincing but the actor who played Richie McCaw was not.

Also according to reviews much of the film’s best moments centred on Donald’s bromance with fellow All Black Richard Kahui.

The weekend Ireland suffered that terrible defeat that became known as the Hamilton Horror Show, I was told, “a good spot the find the Irish would be Beaver and Kaks’ pub”.

Donald and Kahui are part owners of Shenanigan’s Irish Pub in Hamilton. That is not however, Donald’s only Irish connection.

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Kaks and Beaver: Richard Kahui and Stephen Donald with the William Webb-Ellis Cup

Back at underage level, none other than Joe Schmidt coached Donald. During his time at Leinster the current Ireland head coach likened the way in which Donald placekicked with a distinct fade to the kicking style of Fergus McFadden, who at that time often took the kicks for Leinster.

The Kick it would seem might not have the high production values of the Clint Eastwood directed Invictus but certainly seems to reflect the Kiwi passion or should say I obsession for all things rugby related.

Perhaps though, the dream of an All Blacks film directed by Sir Peter Jackson may not be that far off because in recently stating his desire to direct a special episode of Dr Who, “I did suggest that they did a New Zealand story – something to do with the All Blacks versus the Daleks. There’s a good story in there, although obviously the All Blacks would have to win!”

Wouldn’t that be some collaboration between two of New Zealand’s most famous exports?

Trailer for The Kick:

 

Link to when Stephen Donald met himself on the set of The Kick 

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