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Knowler: Guildford's zip missed but it's his fault

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014
Zac Guildford
MARTIN HUNTER/ Getty
ON THE OUTER: Zac Guildford doesn't seem wanted by the Crusaders despite their backline woes.

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The most frustrating thing about the disappearance of Zac Guildford is it has coincided with the disintegration of the Crusaders backline's performances.

OPINION: It's obvious Guildford's on the outer with Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder who appears to have lost patience with the All Blacks wing, seemingly for off-field issues.

Omitted from the South Africa trip and unable to even get on the bench for the opening five Super Rugby matches, the prolonged absence of Guilford raises the question of whether he will represent the Crusaders again before joining wealthy French club Clermont in July.

Blackadder has always explained Guildford has been overlooked because of a lack of form.

But after the defensive gaffes by Johnny McNicholl and Nafi Tuitavake during last weekend's loss to the Hurricanes it appeared this story had another sub-plot.

Maybe Guildford, a player good enough to play 10 tests for the All Blacks, but with well-documented issues involving alcohol abuse, has used-up all his goodwill points with the Crusaders.

While there have been no public meltdowns - unlike some indiscretions in the past - Guildford has probably been taken aside, told there were no second chances and it was time do his penance.

That Guildford slipped off the wagon was nothing new. He admitted as much over the summer when telling news media he had signed with Clermont.

When the Crusaders generously offered to extend his contract last winter, one of the conditions was he steered clear of alcohol. He hasn't kept his word.

Blackadder's decision to shelve Guildford should send a sharp message to everyone: the player involved, his team-mates and management.

The downside of this stance was it coincided with the Crusaders backline's dramatic loss of form.

Guildford's exploits last year (after he had been accepted back from a stand-down for an indiscretion) were unremarkable, but his experience, defensive nous and high work-rate would boost this lacklustre backline.

McNicholl, Tuitavake, Rob Thompson and Israel Dagg have started on the wings instead. Adam Whitelock, Nemani Nadolo and Kieron Fonotia have also provided cover from the bench.

Last weekend, the Crusaders wings had a defensive nightmare as their inexperience at crucial moments was exposed.

McNicholl's decision to rush in on Alapati Leiua resulted in the Hurricanes wing embarking on his match-winning try. Earlier Tuitavake was left stranded as Julian Savea began a kick-and-chase movement that led to a try.

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Hours later the Crusaders flew out to South Africa without Guildford.

If ever Blackadder was going to have a change of heart about taking the 25-year-old to the republic, it would have happened when he watched Leiua and Savea bolt clear.

Instead, it appeared his mind was made up - Guildford was never going to travel.

This Saturday, just as he did last weekend, Guildford was due to play for his Napier Technical club.

Twelve hours later the under-siege Crusaders will play the Lions at Johannesburg's Ellis Park. It will be a difficult must-win match.

Guildford, watching from the Hawke's Bay, must wish he was there to help his mates out. There were no winners from this.

- The Press

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