Zac Guildford eyes All Blacks reprieve
A relieved Zac Guildford took another step closer to an All Blacks recall yesterday and there is every chance he'll be joined at the national squad's training camp by Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor.
"Just staying out of trouble was the main thing," the 23-year-old Guildford said as he arrived at the All Blacks' North Shore hotel yesterday among a sizeable contingent from the Crusaders.
Guildford was initially overlooked for the 35-strong extended squad at the first of two training camps ahead of next month's three-test series against the Irish. He won't be the only player called up late, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen confirming a back will be added to the squad to replace Hurricanes wing Cory Jane, who is out for six weeks after injuring his ankle against the Brumbies on Friday night.
There is a sudden wing shortage with Richard Kahui already out with a shoulder injury but Hansen stopped short of guaranteeing that spot to experienced Highlanders wing Hosea Gear.
Gear is poised to jump ship to Japan if he's unwanted by the All Blacks and Hansen appeared to indicate Taylor had the inside running, though he said a selection meeting today would finalise that option.
"We might look at someone who can double up as a utility and just give us a bit more strength in that area," said Hansen.
"Richard could clearly play three positions – fullback, wing and centre.
"We thought initially we'd just bring in a specialist but now we've lost both of them we might go for someone else who can give us a bit more cover."
Hansen said Taylor had been "playing well and doing lots of things right", and he made it clear that if it came down to a 50-50 call between two players, the one not ready to jump at an overseas deal would get the call.
"If you've got two guys who are playing the same, are in similar form, you're going to reward the guy that's staying – to me that's common sense."
Hansen said Guildford's much publicised off-field problems of last year, culminating in his post-World Cup drunken rampage in Rarotonga, had not been the reason for his initial omission.
But it certainly had not helped his cause.
"I knew if I worked hard and kept out of trouble and did the right things on the field, eventually it would come," Guildford said yesterday.
"But I'm very grateful to have the opportunity again."
Guildford said he knew he was bound for the camp before Saturday night's explosive performance for the Crusaders at AMI Stadium, where the speedster was a prominent part of an impressive backline display in the 59-12 win over the Blues.
"I got the call Friday but kept it pretty quiet," he said. "It was just good to put a performance on board last night and this was a bonus."
Hansen said he hadn't been directly monitoring Guildford's behaviour this year but expected it to be exemplary now.
"That's been a Crusaders issue and all the information I've had is that he's been very good," Hansen said. "We just expect him to continue that."
Guildford said he was more than happy to move on to the unfamiliar right wing – he last played there for the All Blacks against Fiji last year – but, regardless, it seems like he's primed to add to his eight test caps against the Irish next month.
Meanwhile, hooker Keven Mealamu (calf) is under a heavy injury cloud, with medical tests yesterday to determine whether a third hooker will be added to the squad.
Corey Flynn and Hika Elliot are the lead contenders there, though Hansen said young Hurricane Dane Coles was also on their radar.
The three-day camp will be repeated next week in Wellington starting next Sunday.