Zac Guildford winging his way to French club
Zac Guildford will bid au revoir to New Zealand rugby, but not before one last attempt to win a Super Rugby title with the Crusaders.
With his path to the All Blacks seemingly blocked by a host of talented finishers and a fresh start laid on a tempting platter, the wing last night confirmed his move to France.
Guildford has signed a lucrative two-year deal, with a player option for a third year, with glamour French club Clermont Auvergne, which was to announce overnight that the Crusaders and Hawke's Bay flier had replaced former All Blacks wing Sitiveni Sivivatu.
"I am hugely grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given here in New Zealand," Guildford said in a statement sent to The Press last night.
"I have had the honour of playing at the highest level, and I have been fortunate enough to be given second chances.
"Playing for Clermont Auvergne presents new and exciting challenges and I believe that the time is right for me to take this opportunity. Until then, I am going to make the most of the upcoming season with the Crusaders."
Guildford said leaving New Zealand was not an easy decision but felt like the right move.
In recent times Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Cory Jane and Frank Halai have surpassed Guildford in the pecking order, blocking his path for a national recall alongside good friend and fellow Hawke's Bay product Israel Dagg.
The timing of his newly-inked contract effectively rules Guildford out of contention for a tilt at the Olympics with the sevens team in 2016. It may also end the prospect of him playing for the All Blacks again.
But after his well-documented battles with alcohol, the French Top 14 offers Guildford somewhat of a clean slate, as well as the opportunity to set himself up for life.
The 24-year-old wing, who played the last of his 10 tests against Ireland in Christchurch in 2012, has resumed training and will look to finish this season on a high with the Crusaders.
It is understood he will leave for France immediately after the Super Rugby campaign.
Guildford will join the likes of former All Blacks Benson Stanley and Mike Delany under the new coaching staff of Franck Azema and ex-All Blacks and Waikato forward Jono Gibbes.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said: "Zac has been a core member of the Crusaders since he came on board in 2010. He is a gifted player and has a real passion for the game.
"He will certainly be missed by his Crusaders team-mates but we still have the upcoming season ahead of us and I am sure Zac will continue to be a valuable member of the squad until his departure."