MacDonald: Japan spell improved me

New Zealand full-back Leon MacDonald believes his stint with Japanese club Yamaha will stand him in good stead for Saturday's first Test against the British & Irish Lions. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

New Zealand full-back Leon MacDonald believes his stint with Japanese club Yamaha will stand him in good stead for Saturday’s first Test against the British & Irish Lions.

MacDonald moved to Japan in 2003 but has since returned to New Zealand and is one of six Crusaders named in Graham Henry’s All Blacks line-up.

And the 28-year-old feels he has benefited greatly from his experience in the land of the rising sun.

"I played first five (fly-half) in Japan and I think it helped me a lot for a couple of reasons.

"It helped my kicking game because I had the ball a lot and it helped me read the game as well.

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"So playing at first five for a year helped when I moved back to full-back (for the Crusaders) because I knew what the first five was thinking.

"The standard is obviously a lot lower. It’s nowhere near as physical and demanding on the body and it is like going back to the good old days, really, when you go out on the park before the game and both sides are eyeing each other up. It was quite refreshing to be honest."

But when Crusaders coach Robbie Deans opened the door for a return to the big time earlier this year, MacDonald had no hesitation in taking up the offer.

"I just thought the timing was right. I felt really good, physically and mentally, and I was ready to give it another crack now, because I felt it would probably be too late after two years."

In an All Blacks team which has five changes from the starting side that thrashed Fiji 91-0 on June 10, MacDonald knows he will have to reproduce his dazzling Super 12 form against Sir Clive Woodward’s Lions side if he is to keep Muliaina at bay.

"You are always under pressure playing for the All Blacks," he said.

"Mils (Muliaina) was outstanding last year. I saw him play a lot on television and he was simply outstanding.

"Having a guy like Mils on the bench means you have to go out there and do well. One or two mistakes and you know the coach has the option of bringing a top replacement on so that adds a bit of pressure."

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