But after spending just one season in Japan, the talented full-back invoked a clause in his contract which allowed him to return to New Zealand this year.
And in just a few short months he has gone from not even being in the All Blacks frame to ousting last season's outstanding player Malili Muliaina from the starting XV for Saturday's first Test.
MacDonald is one of six Crusaders named in the Test XV who will be playing in familiar surroundings at their home ground, Jade Stadium.
The 28-year-old does however concede that when he returned to New Zealand from Japan playing for the All Blacks was not even on his mind.
"I didn't think I would get straight back in the All Blacks," MacDonald said. "I was probably looking at coming back to try and make the New Zealand Maori team. This is a really good bonus.
"To be picked for the All Blacks is a bit of a shock. I wasn't expecting it. When my name was read out I was in a little bit of shock."
MacDonald continued his rich vein of form from the Super 12 into the match against the Lions for the New Zealand Maori. He scored the match-winning try in the 19-13 victory over the tourists and openly admits that his success has taken him by surprise.
"Since coming back I've had to pinch myself because I've won a Super 12 title, beat the Lions with the Maori and now I'm starting the Test series against the Lions as well," he said.
"It was a risk going to Japan but I thought at the time it was what I needed, otherwise I didn't feel I had many more years left in me if I just kept going the way it was."