Guildford to revive reputation on home ground
All Blacks wing Zac Guildford couldn't think of a better place to resurrect his rugby reputation than his Hawke's Bay home ground.
The 23-year-old has been named on the Crusaders' left wing against the Chiefs in Napier tomorrow night in his first start since a four-match ban for a booze-fuelled spree in Rarotonga last November.
Guildford came off the bench in the second half of last weekend's loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin and has been elevated to the starting lineup at Tom Marshall's expense for the McLean Park showdown.
Crusaders coaches Todd Blackadder and Daryl Gibson have reshuffled their back three to accommodate Guildford. Sean Maitland moves from the right wing to fullback and World Cup fullback Israel Dagg shifts from the left wing to the right.
A buoyant Guildford, who has been nursing a hamstring niggle, insisted he was looking ahead and not back at the ramifications of his Rarotonga rampage.
"What's happened in the past is four months ago, that's behind me. At present, it's the Chiefs this weekend, that's what I'm looking forward to.
"I'm really excited to reunite with a couple of my good mates, Sean and Izzy, at the back and on my home ground at McLean Park.
"I can't wait. I've had a few niggles this week I've had to nurse so I haven't looked too far ahead. But now I'm almost in the clear, I got named in the team and that's pretty exciting."
The hamstring strain was simply something "us supposedly fast fellas are supposed to get every now and again", but was feeling much better yesterday.
Guildford said he and Dagg, who still pledge their provincial allegiance to Hawke's Bay, were looking forward to returning to Napier.
"We've got a game on Friday and we're staying on for the weekend. It's exciting to get back and play there and being able to spend some time with our families."
The Crusaders beat the Chiefs 25-19 in their "home" game in Napier last season and Guildford is confident about getting crowd backing despite the Chiefs boasting twice as many Hawke's Bay players as the Crusaders.
"They've got about six Magpies to our three but hopefully they'll like me, Izzy and Ross [Kennedy] doubly much, so we'll get the support. Our last visit to Mclean Park was successful against the Chiefs and the crowd got in behind us. To all the Hawke's Bay people out there, make sure you get behind us again and hopefully we can put on a good game for you."
Guildford's mother, brother, uncles, cousins "and lot of friends" will be in the crowd and he's been bombarded with texts asking for tickets. "I've said, `I'll get back to you soon, I'll see how many I can scab off the boys'."
Blackadder – clearly satisfied with Guildford's contribution in Dunedin – has chosen to start the Chiefs' match with the back-three who finished the Highlanders game. He said it made sense to keep Dagg on the wing for another week. "The reason why he can't play fullback is he can't kick a ball [after a quadriceps injury last year]. If I put him at fullback just to appease the public and he injures himself then he won't be a Crusader for the rest of the year.
"He's probably only got another week – he's starting to kick a ball and get his strength back into it. So he's going to have another game on the wing. We just need to get through with it.
"Sean plays fullback for Canterbury in the ITM Cup ... We're managing [Dagg] and we're getting the best out of everyone. But [the permutations] could be different in two weeks' time."
There is a better balance to the Crusaders bench with rookie Tom Taylor joining Marshall as backline cover. Both can play in the five-eighths or in the back-three.
CRUSADERS: 15-Sean Maitland, 14-Israel Dagg, 13-Robbie Fruean, 12-Adam Whitelock,11- Zac Guildford, 10-Tyler Bleyendaal, 9- Andy Ellis (vice-capt), 8-Kieran Read (capt), 7-Matt Todd, 6-George Whitelock, 5-Tom Donnelly,4- Luke Romano, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Corey Flynn, 1-Ben Franks. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Wyatt Crockett, Sam Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Tom Marshall.