Zac Guildford to steer clear of booze for a year
Zac Guildford's not an alcoholic and hasn't been banned from drinking by his employer, but he has made the decision to stay dry for the next year.
The Crusaders wing will have breathed a huge sigh of relief after the New Zealand Rugby Union decided not to rip up his contract after concluding its misconduct hearing into his booze-fuelled night in Rarotonga.
He can also count himself lucky he is subject to a players' collective agreement which forced the NZRU into an innocuous suspension of three preseason games and one Super Rugby game that will cost Guildford just $4000 in lost income.
Perhaps most encouraging for the 22-year-old All Black is that experts have given him a positive report after a clinical assessment of his ongoing battle with the booze.
"The advice we've received and Zac has received is he's a classic abuser of alcohol like a lot of young binge drinkers," NZRU general manager professional rugby Neil Sorensen said yesterday. "But what we know from what happened in Rarotonga is that when he binge drinks he has other behavioral issues that come to the surface.
"But the early assessments are he is not an alcoholic per se, that's the advice we have been given."
Part of Guildford's sanction is that he agree to get specialist alcohol treatment and counselling, something he had already begun himself.
And though the NZRU has not slapped a ban on Guildford drinking, the player has pledged to the Crusaders not to touch alcohol for a year.
"No, he isn't banned. We didn't stipulate that or make it a condition of his sanction," Sorensen said.
"I've never imposed that on anyone, it really has to come from him in my view."
Nor has the NZRU given Guildford an official final warning, though it appears clear another off-field slip-up – he has had four in the past 18 months – will be dealt with far more severely.
"I won't be tied into saying, 'next time you do something I'm going to sack you'," Sorensen said.
"I want to treat every case on its merits, including if we ever see Zac Guildford again, but in saying that he won't be wanting to stuff up again in a hurry will he?"
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was more forthright about what will happen if his wing does not keep his end of the bargain.
"There's no second chance saloon here, that's really clear," he said. "There's no more misconduct. If there's anything remotely close, he's gone."
In truth, Blackadder as coach in some ways wields more power than the NZRU.
That's because Sorensen's hands are tied by the collective which stipulates a maximum ban of four matches and a $4000 fine for serious misconduct, or termination of employment.
There is surprisingly little scope for anything in between and Sorensen admitted the greater deterrent came via non-selection for players who acted up off the field.
"That's a huge disincentive isn't it? You think about the ramifications of what that does for a player's renegotiations with us. That's not in the collective, but it's always in the back of these young men's minds."
Sorensen maintained he did not believe in hefty fines as seen in other professional sports around the world.
"Slapping a fine on guys who earn five times the average wage – I don't think sends the right signal," he said.
"Zac's more upset about letting his family down, or not stripping for those games than any fine."