Ex-All Black Donald to join Ulster

Stephen Donald (Getty Images)
Stephen Donald (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Former All Black Stephen Donald is to join Ulster on a short-term contract as a replacement for flyhalf Christian Leali'ifano who is to return to Australia.

The Irish Times reported Donald's signing will be officially confirmed in the next few days and he will re-join his former Chiefs team-mate Jono Gibbes, who is the side's head coach.

Donald, who played Super Rugby for the Chiefs last year and Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016, has been playing in Japan for Toshiba Brave Lupus and is expected to join Ulster when the Japanese club's campaign ends.

Leali'ifano will play his final game for Ulster at the weekend in a key European Champions Cup tie against La Rochelle before returning to the Brumbies.

Gibbes was asked to comment on whether Donald had been signed but said that wasn't his decision to announce and that there was nothing to announce at the moment.

The club's operations staff would deal with that.

"I've kind of been consumed myself with putting my energy into what will actually make a difference on Saturday," he said.

Ulster's form this season has seen them lose to Connacht and Leinster in PRO14 play but they are still a chance to top their group in the Champions Cup, sitting two points behind pool leaders La Rochelle.

It will require a turnaround by the side after their 38-7 loss to Leinster at the weekend.

"It is exciting to be in round five in Europe, be at home, and have so much on the line," Gibbes said.

"But it perhaps a bit disappointing (that we're) coming into a big occasion like that having to address a few things from last Saturday that clearly were not good enough."

Meanwhile, doubt continues over the role that New Zealand-born and Ireland and British & Irish Lions centre Jared Payne will be able to play for the battling Irish province.

The career of former Crusaders, Blues and Northland midfielder is at a crossroads.

Payne qualified for Ireland and played in the country's first win over the All Blacks.

But a head injury suffered during the tour has not cleared and he continues to suffer headaches. He has been deregistered from Ulster's Champions Cup squad and it is possible he may not play at all during the remainder of the season.

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