NSW Waratahs flyhalf Ben Donaldson is looking to build off his breakout season as the club gets used to life under Darren Coleman.
After featuring in just 76 minutes across six appearances in 2019, the 22-year-old was thrust into the starting side against the Western Force, instantly impressing and nearly guiding them to victory.
The performance would see Donaldson hold onto the position into Trans-Tasman even after the return of good mate Will Harrison before a groin injury sidelined him from the final two games.
After putting some consistent performances together, the former Junior Wallaby is taking plenty of confidence out of the 'tough' year as they prepare for Super Rugby Pacific.
“Obviously it was a tough year for all of us but for me personally, I was actually pretty pleased with the games I played,” he told Rugby.com.au.
“It was basically my first full proper year in a professional environment where I was starting and I think those minutes, you only learn as a player, especially as a ten, when you’ve got 80 minutes in a game to play so I think that gametime helped. Obviously getting some combinations with some Wallabies helped so hopefully we can build that heading into this new year.
“Last year was probably a bit of shock to us. We were thrown in there and we’re all up to the standard but coming up against those Kiwis sides for the first time, they’re top class with some really good footy players and they showed that they have the skills but also perform it under fatigue and pressure which pays off.
“I think to be able to match them, what DC’s (Darren Coleman) doing with our ball in hand skills is really going to come into play when we play those sides.”
As they prepare for round one, Donaldson is involved in a 'positive' competition with best mates Harrison and Tane Edmed as they vie for the starting flyhalf position.
All three came through similar pathways in the Randwick system and Donaldson notes their ongoing friendship has helped build combinations and trust within the playmaker group.
“We always say there’s never any bitterness or anger towards each other. We’re all there to make each other better and all three of us are three best mates in the squad,” Donaldson reiterated.
“You don’t really get that in most squads where you are all best mates but we’re always doing stuff outside of training together and when we’re at training, we’re trying to help. We’re happy to put our hand up and sub out for the other guy because we know the only way we’re going to get better is if we’re all training well and at our best.
“We’re happy to jump into other positions because we know there’s going to be a chance where there’s two of us on the park at the same time. We all know each other’s game so well.
“I think all the hard work we’re doing together really pushes us for that starting position so it’s all positive competition.”
WITHDRAW: NZ pull out of Spain Sevens legs
PERSPECTIVE: Lolesio taking learnings into fresh season
The Waratahs are looking to begin a new era under Darren Coleman, with his 'emotional' approach beginning to show within the group according to Donaldson.
He believes this and a greater focus on executing their skills under pressure will help them turn around their fortunes.
“He’s so emotional with everything he does and that’s rubbing off on the boys,” Donaldson believes.
“We have a pretty young squad but also some experienced boys coming back so it’s a really good mix. To have a coach that has that real emotional touch with the team, it’s really rubbing off and it’s showing in the boys who are starting to become really emotional which is good for our footy.
“I think he’s really big on ball in hand (skills). We haven’t done a lot of running without ball in hand, we’ve done plenty of competitive games, footy-like conditional into 15 on 15 which is a little bit different from last year…he’s just big on ball in hand and really expressing our skills under fatigue.
“Don’t get me wrong we’re still doing plenty of running, probably the same as previous pre-seasons but there’s a lot more ball in hand time whilst we’re doing that running. As we saw this year, there was a few fair mistakes and in these close games, you have to be able to take the points or executer under fatigue which is what he’s really pushing.”