Ulster's new man Donald has big boots to fill, admits Rory Best
Ulster will put their faith in former All Black Stephen Donald for the remainder of the season with Christian Leali'ifano set to depart the province at the end of this month.
Donald is a cult figure in his homeland after kicking the winning penalty in the 2011 World Cup final, only weeks after being recalled into the squad from a fishing holiday.
Finishing up the Japanese season with his Toshiba Brave Lupus club this weekend, the Belfast Telegraph can confirm that he is to then arrive at Kingspan Stadium.
While confirmation is not expected until final details have been ironed out this week, the signing of the man with 23 All Blacks caps to his name will provide Ulster with an experienced out-half to cover Leali'ifano's departure.
The Wallaby has played 15 times for the province this season after arriving on the eve of the opener against the Cheetahs.
With his last home game coming against La Rochelle in Saturday's crunch Champions Cup contest, skipper Rory Best said yesterday that the Brumbies man will leave big boots to fill.
"He's given us some big performances in his time here," said captain Best. "Obviously, for him, it would be nice if he finishes his last home game here with a victory."
With Leali’ifano’s initial motivation for his Belfast sojourn the search for game time after a leukaemia battle, Best has been especially impressed with how the 30-year-old bought into life in Ulster.
“He’s a quality player, we knew that when we signed him,” added the hooker.
“But more than his rugby ability, it’s how he is as a person.
“You hoped he’d be the kind of person that you thought he’d be with everything he’s come through in his personal life. He’s been that and then some.
“That’s the sort of people you want.
“You want people who come in and play well, but you want people who are really good in the dressing room and people that you instantly like. He’s 100% been that.
“From that point of view, as much as anything, he’ll be a really hard act to follow.”
With Leali’ifano always intending to return home in time for 2018’s Super Rugby season, the province have now turned to World Cup winner Donald.
The man nicknamed ‘beaver’ will be making his second move to the northern hemisphere, after a lucrative, but largely unhappy, spell at Bath.
He pitched up at the Rec after the 2011 World Cup, and the game that will define the legacy of his career.
He missed out on selection originally, but kicked the crucial winning penalty in the final against France following injury to Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden over the course of the tournament.