Zac Guildford says he's learned valuable lesson

'I just want to be a good rugby player and a good person'

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2012
Zac Guildford
JOSEPH JOHNSON/Fairfax NZ

SOBER: Zac Guildford during a stretching session at Crusaders training at Rugby Park.

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Zac Guildford says staying sober for a year is going to be hard, but he knows it's a must after hitting "rock bottom".

When the 22-year-old should have been enjoying the afterglow of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup win late last year, he was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after a booze-fuelled night in Rarotonga where he walked naked and bleeding into a bar before getting into a stoush with patrons.

His public fall from grace led Crusaders coach, Todd Blackadder, to warn that the Super Rugby campaign was "no second-chance saloon" for the talented wing who was suspended for three pre-season games and one Super match.

Clearly nervous about speaking to the media yesterday at Rugby Park, Guildford said he had "definitely" learnt his lesson and that it was time to grow up.

"I think I have," he said. "It's a pretty tough lesson to learn, but I think you have to hit rock bottom to bounce back up. I don't want to make any mistakes again."

He said the end of 2011 was a dreadful time for him, but he was looking forward to playing rugby with the Crusaders.

"I was right down in the dumps and I didn't know where I was going or what I was doing there for a while," he said.

"[But] I think being in this environment will improve me as a person."

Improving as a person is Guildford's new catchphrase, but one that must please Blackadder and the NZRU.

Guildford has promised to lay off the booze completely for the Crusaders' campaign, but said that because of his history of drinking, it would be difficult.

"I think it'll be pretty tough because I haven't gone a whole year without drinking before, but we'll see," he said.

"I don't want to make the same mistakes I've made in the past. I just want to be a good rugby player and a good person."

He knows how much he has to lose and that a slip-up would probably lead to the NZRU ripping up his contract.

But the eight-test All Black said he had well and truly learnt his lesson and changed his ways.

"I didn't realise how high profile I was and that I was in the spotlight so much," he said.

"I just thought I could do the things my mates did and what I'd always done at school."

Guildford is nursing a groin injury and only took a limited part in the Crusaders' training yesterday, but expects to be fit before his suspension ends, and be available for the Crusaders' second round game against the Highlanders in Dunedin on March 3.

He'd been nervous about his treatment by the public, but said it had been largely positive.

And he's still got his sense of humour.

When asked what his non-alcoholic drink of choice was, he replied: "If I've had a feed then I like to drink Coke Zero, but if I'm just kicking about then I'm happy with the old Pump [water] bottle. Actually, I better say the Richie McCaw water because he's my captain and I want to play this season."

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