Crusaders pay for Zac Guildford's misconduct
The Crusaders shouldn't be bearing the brunt of the Zac Guildford suspension but they're taking one for the team.
Todd Blackadder's team will be without the embattled wing for three preseason matches against the Highlanders in Greymouth, the Hurricanes at Mangatainoka and the Melbourne Rebels in Australia and the Super Rugby opener against the Blues, in Auckland, on February 24.
He'll be back for the March 3 Dunedin derby with the Highlanders.
At first glance a four-match ban seems sound, though punitive types may claim it's like slapping him across the wrist with a wet bus ticket.
But is it fair that the Crusaders should be punished when none of Guildford's four misconduct offences occurred on their watch?
Shouldn't Guildford be benched for four All Black matches instead?
You couldn't blame Blackadder if he threw the toys out of the cot and petitioned the NZRU not to deprive the Crusaders of Guildford's services. He admits he could have taken the view of being really disappointed and why should the Crusaders be penalised when it wasn't in their time? "I wouldn't say he's been an angel [in the Crusaders camp] but he hasn't been any different to anyone else."
But Blackadder feels the penalties are ultimately "irrelevant". His chief concern is for Guildford as "a person, not a rugby player".
He felt the Crusaders and Guildford should go through this process together. "We'll stand beside him and we'll suck it up like everyone else and we'll get on with it".
Missing preseason games is no big deal given most coaches rotate their squads and manage workloads. But while Guildford can train with his team-mates, he'll go into the Highlanders game severely short of match fitness.
However, he won't be whining about his lot. Guildford will know he's been treated incredibly leniently by the NZRU given his recent rap sheet.
The Hawke's Bay Magpie is clearly chastened after his Rarotonga rampage where he assaulted bar patrons in a blackout, fled from police and harassed a woman triathlete. His agent Simon Porter said yesterday Guildford had sought treatment before the NZRU punishment was announced.
It would be nice to see him take another initiative and volunteer to return to the Cook Islands at his own expense to run a junior coaching clinic.
But the early signs are good if the young man means business. His Rarotonga rock bottom could be a turning point in his career.
Guildford couldn't be coming to a better environment than the Crusaders in terms of support. As Blackadder said yesterday, the Christchurch-based franchise has had "a lot of guys over the years, who've had a lot of difficulty in terms of alcoholism and things like that".
"He's got some really good role models that are still in this team who have gone through what he's gone through."
Blackadder says the Crusaders pride themselves on being |"a family" not just a rugby team. "We actually have rules within our team and we make sure we protect each other."
He knows Guildford will face temptation but the Crusaders will make sure he is not placed in any "compromising situations" at team functions. "When he goes to the pub, or his mates are drinking at home, Zac simply can't [drink]." Fairfax NZ