Knowler: Is Zac Guildford gambling with future?

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014
Zac Guildford
Getty Images
HEADING OVERSEAS: Former All Black Zac Guildford.

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Memo to Zac Guildford: Don't blow it.

OPINION: Don't go convincing yourself that the people who have assisted you through the rough times - your closest friends, team-mates, coaches and rugby fans - are naive or ignorant.

When Guildford, a self-confessed alcoholic, recently announced he had signed with wealthy French club Clermont he confirmed he had returned to the booze on several occasions.

"I'm not going to lie, I haven't been perfect," Guildford, who described those detours from sobriety as "slip ups", said.

We can only assume Guildford, who turns 25 today, was genuine about there only being a few incidents because, given his previous record, it is increasingly difficult to digest such statements with a straight face.

It may also surprise Guildford to learn that Christchurch is not a place where secrets are easily kept.

People who patronise and work in the city's bars are not silly; they recognise the 10-test All Black who has become as renowned for his off-field scrapes as his exploits as a wing. They scrutinise his every move.

When Guildford drinks - whether in a public establishment or at home - he is betraying those who have have publicly supported him during his troubles.

A year ago, when he belted another man at a Christchurch party, Guildford checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic to address his addiction.

Following the 2011 World Cup he promised to avoid alcohol for 12 months (and failed) because a post-tournament bender in Rarotonga ended with him entering a bar naked and striking a stranger.

There have been other indiscretions, some of which have been made public and others which remain the subject of innuendo and gossip. But we all get the picture.

When Guildford emerged from rehab last March he fronted the media at the New Zealand Rugby Union's headquarters in Wellington and finally acknowledged he was an alcoholic.

He never promised to not drink again but hoped to remain sober.

"At the end of the day if I want to drink I'm going to drink. It's quite easy to go down to the shop and buy beer isn't it? But I've realised I can't do that."

NZRU professional manager Neil Sorensen stopped short of saying it was Guildford's "last chance".

"Us saying, ‘you can't drink again', that's arrogant of us. Zac Guildford without alcohol is an incredibly popular, really well liked and a good bloke. Zac and alcohol, he makes bad choices."

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Sorensen's other comments were more blunt.

"All the medical information and experts have said this kid's an alcoholic and he has a mental illness and Zac has accepted that."

Yet the "slip ups" continue - as confirmed by Guildford last month.

This is a worry. Because in the past it is the small indiscretions that have eventually led to the major meltdowns.

The NZRU, the Crusaders management, his team-mates, ex-girlfriend and high-profile jockey Samantha Spratt and manager Simon Porter continue to support the troubled rugby star. He owes them.

He wants to win the Super Rugby title before leaving for France to earn the sort of money most New Zealanders can only fantasise about.

These are Guildford's opportunities to lose. But is he listening?

- Canterbury

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