A record-breaking pointscorer at club and provincial level, Marist-Western Suburbs and Canterbury fullback Michael O’Donnell played 10 Tests among 28 appearances for the Kiwis from 1977-81.
A Schoolboy Kiwi from the West Coast, O’Donnell transferred to Christchurch with Marist-Western Suburbs in 1970 and accumulated 1,688 points in 17 premier seasons for the club – a figure unmatched in CRL club history. He debuted for Canterbury in 1971 and racked up a record 192 points for the province in 48 appearances.
O’Donnell represented South Island against the Kiwis (1971) and Great Britain (1974), but his maiden New Zealand call-up did not arrive until 1977. The 24-year-old came into the side for Warren Collicoat for the final World Championship fixture against France, featuring at fullback in a 28-20 victory at Carlaw Park.
He toured Australia with the Kiwis in 1978, but Chris Jordan – previously a centre or five-eighth at international level – was preferred at fullback for the three Tests.
Unavailable for New Zealand selection the following season, O’Donnell cemented the Kiwis’ No.1 jersey in 1980. His three-goal hauls in both of the Tests against the Australian tourists represented the home side’s entire points tally in a one-sided series, while he tasted victory over the green-and-golds as part of South Island’s shock 12-11 win.
O’Donnell was only a part-time goalkicker for the Kiwis on their 1980 tour of Britain and France, but he played all five Tests on tour and scored a brilliant dummying try in the 12-8 win over Great Britain in the second clash at Bradford. He was shunted to centre for the series-opening loss to France – with Gary Kemble debuting at fullback – but returned to the custodian role for the second-Test win.
His international career wrapped up in 1981, playing in both convincing wins over the visiting French team and scoring a try in the first. O’Donnell was unavailable again in 1982 and suffered a broken arm early in ’83, allowing Kemble to secure the fullback role long-term.
Though his provincial tenure ended in 1982, O’Donnell continued to play for Marist-Western Suburbs until 1986, when he moved to Auckland for business reasons. O’Donnell had previously featured in the club’s 1970 and 1972-73 Grand Final losses.
NEW ZEALAND (1977-78, 1980-81)
10 Tests – 2 tries, 6 goals (18 points)
18 tour matches – 4 tries, 19 goals (50 points)
-1977 Kiwis World Championship squad
-1978 Kiwis tour of Australia
-1980 Kiwis tour of Britain and France