New Zealand's under-20 rugby team is rallying around star back Zac Guildford, whose father died at the end of its 44-28 World Cup final win over England in Tokyo on Sunday.
What was supposed to be one of the greatest days of Guildford's life turned to despair after the final whistle when the two-try hero looked up to the grandstand for his parents, Rob and Deb.
New Zealand under-20 manager Grant Hubbard said Guildford instantly became aware there was a problem with his dad, who is believed to have died of a heart attack.
"Zac could see something was wrong and he ran up the steps and his mum and our doc were working on him," Hubbard told The Dominion Post from Tokyo last night.
"It happened in a flash really, it was just such a tragic end to what had been a great tournament for Zac."
Rob Guildford was a 44-year-old father of two sons, who worked as a supervisor in the electrical industry.
He is a former Wairarapa Bush rugby representative, playing six games between 1992 and 1996.
He was still playing at social level in Hawke's Bay until last year when a knee injury forced him to hang up his boots.
He was a massive supporter of 20-year-old Zac's fledgling career, following him up and down the country regardless of whether he was playing for the Hurricanes at Super 14 level or Hawke's Bay in the Air New Zealand Cup.
Zac Guildford told the Hawke's Bay Today newspaper that he would play with his father's memory in his heart this season.
"It's been a hard night ... my Magpies season will be dedicated to dad."
Hubbard said the tragedy had rocked the just-crowned world champions to the bone.
"The support went straight to Zac and Deb. We closed ranks and came together as one big family as quickly as we could.
"Zac is a fantastic team man and Rob and Deb had been fantastic supporters of our team in this tournament. The impact of this has been immense on all of us. There was such a bittersweet feeling after the game."
The NZRU moved swiftly to support the Guildford family. Zac and Deb stayed in the team hotel on Sunday and New Zealand embassy officials were working with them yesterday to assist the family to return home.
Hubbard said he would not be surprised if many of the world champion team attended the funeral, which it is understood will be held at Papawai Marae, Greytown, later this week.
- The Dominion Post
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