Former All Black Zac Guildford gets green light to play for Waikato in Mitre 10 Cup
Zac Guildford has proved to himself he still loves rugby after being given the green light to play for Waikato in the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup.
The former All Blacks winger is starting all over again as he bids to return to the professional scene.
Guildford, 28, said he's "ready to rock and roll" after making big changes in his personal life since moving to Hamilton after his well documented troubled past.
Positive chats between Waikato Rugby and New Zealand Rugby Players' Association head Rob Nichol means he'll return to the top level of provincial rugby for the first time since 2015, when he played for Hawke's Bay.
"They gave me the green light to play Mitre 10 Cup as such," he said.
"That's the first step in the right direction for me, and I've just got to prove through my performances - and off the field - that I'm in a good space."
Guildford has been playing club rugby for Hamilton Old Boys in Waikato's premier competition after answering a call from Roger Randle to represent Waikato sevens in the summer.
NZ Rugby said they weren't ready to welcome him back in January despite his form at the national sevens tournament, which put his name in the frame for New Zealand's sevens team again.
But Guildford, who won 11 All Blacks caps between 2009 and 2012, has been given another chance after Waikato announced his signature on Tuesday.
He admitted his off-field issues had got the better of him again in Sydney, after leaving the Waratahs for "well being reasons" in June of last year.
A return to his roots followed, and some Heartland Championship action with Wairarapa Bush before heading to Hamilton in November.
Things have steadily progressed for Guildford, who's balancing full-time work for sportswear manufacturer Kukri with Old Boys and Waikato training.
He said he doesn't want to become complacent, though.
"I've been surrounding myself with good people. I'm living with a good family and I obviously had to make changes in my personal life that were made some time last year.
"I'm just got to keep doing good things that will help me with rugby."
The ultimate aim is another crack at professional rugby and one man watching closely could be the next Chiefs coach, Colin Cooper, who Guildford played under for the Hurricanes (2008-09) and New Zealand Maori (2013).
"I'm just looking to finish the club season and looking to Mitre 10 Cup with Waikato, but all going well performance-wise, I'll look to get back into full-time professionalism," he said.
"We'll just have to see how that goes. I haven't played at that level for a long time, so I've got to prove that I'm still capable."
Guildford admitted he hadn't spoken to Cooper for a while, or met with NZ Rugby general manager Neil Sorensen since being told to prove he's a reformed character.
"I've had to go about things like when I was a teenager trying to make it," he said.
"I've played every club game [for Old Boys] and through the sevens campaign [for Waikato]. I've worked hard and it's pleasing for me to see the hard work is paying off."
Guildford's first Waikato outing could be their season opener against Taranaki in New Plymouth on August 19.