OPINION: Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder must already be preparing for life without troubled star Zac Guildford this season.
The ex-All Blacks wing's latest alcohol-related incident must surely have tested Blackadder's patience to breaking point.
Any sanctions will ultimately be decided by Guildford's employer, the New Zealand Rugby Union, not his coach.
But the NZRU will be looking for more than another expression of contrition and a pledge to stop drinking for a year.
It's inconceivable Guildford will be treated as leniently as last year when banned for three pre-season matches and the first game of the Super 15 campaign after his booze-fuelled rampage in Rarotonga.
So what will happen? Who knows without access to all the facts. But when someone as supportive as Blackadder says it's "back to square one", something serious must be afoot. Spare a thought for the bloke - he's a coach not a chaperone. He's got to start the season without Richie McCaw, so he doesn't need any more grey hairs.
Guildford's contract could be cancelled if the NZRU decides this is the final straw. But a better option might be to ban him for the Super 15 season because a pre-season suspension would be a complete joke.
Six months on the sidelines and a hit in the hip pocket would allow him time to take stock and decide if his only solution is entire alcohol abstinence. One day at a time, of course.
Plenty of people have made the fateful decision that it's safe to return to having a quiet beer after a prolonged dry spell. The consequences, invariably, are disastrous.
The NZRU has a duty, as a good employer, to look after Guildford in his hour of need. But they also have a responsibility to uphold the game's image and to treat people consistently.
Referee Steve Walsh was sacked by the NZRU for alcohol-impaired behavioural breaches. It was the jolt he needed to get sober and go on to resurrect his refereeing career in Australia before officiating at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
If the NZRU are looking for a short, sharp shock for Guildford, a year of Gordon Tietjens' gut-busting sevens training regimes might be a creative punishment alternative.
Guildford, an enigmatic talent who turns 24 next month, has much to lose. But so do the Crusaders.
Blackadder has watched Sean Maitland, wing it to Scotland. If Zac gets zapped, the Crusaders' new backs coaches Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger would have to blood two new wings.
The outside backs division still boasts All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg and the dependable Adam Whitelock. But Canterbury wing Johnny McNicholl is a Super rugby rookie slated to replace Maitland on the right flank.
Whatever penalties are dispensed to Guildford, the Crusaders should be shown some leniency to recruit beyond their wider training group ranks, to plug a yawning gap. They've done all they can to support their man.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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