Crusaders part ways with wing Zac Guildford

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2014
Zac Guildford
Getty Images
FRANCE BOUND: Zac Guildford was talented enough to become an All Black but his problems with alcohol blighted his career in New Zealand.

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Zac Guildford has been cut loose by the Crusaders.

Rarely do Super Rugby franchises cut players mid-season but the Crusaders and Guildford, who has been disgruntled at not getting any game-time for the franchise, have agreed to part ways to allow the international wing to prepare for his move to Clermont.

Guildford signed a two-year deal - with an option of a third - with the French club last summer and was expected to join them after the Super Rugby season ended.

But the Press understands both parties have agreed on a split and it will become official when the New Zealand Rugby Union terminates the former All Black's contract.

Guildford, whose battles with alcohol have been a constant throughout his professional rugby career, was a notable absentee from Crusaders training at Rugby Park yesterday.

Although the Crusaders would not comment on his whereabouts, stating they were focusing on tomorrow night's must-win match against the Highlanders in Dunedin, it's understood he is no longer considered an official member of their squad.

The 25-year-old's departure puts an end to months of speculation about the troubled wing's limited role at the franchise and it's understood both parties have been extremely frustrated by the way their relationship has unravelled.

The Crusaders feel let down after they tossed him a lifeline by extending his contract through to the end of this season, while Guildford has been peeved at their refusal to select him.

Last year Guildford, who earlier admitted he was an alcoholic after spending around four weeks in a rehabilitation clinic, wanted to sign for an overseas club but was unable to secure a deal.

The Crusaders, who had succeeded in getting him to transfer from the Hurricanes in 2010, re-signed him on a one-year deal on the understanding his lifestyle would be booze-free.

But even before the season began there were concerns about Guildford's indiscretions, and earnest discussions were held between the Crusaders management, Guildford's agent Simon Porter and Players' Association boss Rob Nichol. Porter and Guildford could not be reached for comment last night.

It didn't take the Crusaders long to lose patience.

Although coach Todd Blackadder maintained Guildford was being overlooked because of fitness issues, it became obvious there was more to the story.

Although Guildford played several pre-season games, he was ignored when the competition began. Less-experienced players such as Nafi Tuitavake, Rob Thompson, Johnny McNicholl and Nemani Nadolo earned starts instead.

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Subsequently Guildford never added to the 79 Super Rugby caps he collected with the Hurricanes and Crusaders between 2008 and 2013; his appearances were limited to the Crusaders development side and Marist-Albion and Napier Tech in the Christchurch metro and Hawke's Bay club competitions.

Several months ago Guildford, frustrated at being forced to kick around at club level, asked to be released but the Crusaders were reluctant because they wanted him as cover in case of injuries.

However, Adam Whitelock's recent return from international sevens duty has bolstered their outside back numbers and he was immediately named on the bench ahead of Guildford for tomorrow's game against the Highlanders.

Despite his well-documented struggles with alcohol, Guildford's supporters and team-mates have defended him as popular and well-meaning.

He has often been prepared to help others less fortunate than himself, was polite with fans who asked for autographs and photos and took immense pride in his rugby connections - many of which are tattooed on his body alongside the name of his father Robert, who left such a massive hole in his life when he died suddenly in 2009.

Now Guildford's rugby career lies on the fields of France and beyond.

- The Press

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