Crusaders to offer Zac Guildford tough love

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2013
Zac Guildford
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A SMALL SACRIFICE: Zac Guildford sips from a glass of water during a press conference where he admitted his alcoholism.

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Soon after Zac Guildford admitted he was an alcoholic Todd Blackadder and Kieran Read were vowing to assist in keeping his demons at bay.

Despite the professional rugby industry being awash with alcohol sponsorship and associated with this country's drinking culture, Crusaders coach Blackadder and captain Read yesterday said Guildford would not feel compromised when he returned to the team.

Having acknowledged he is an alcoholic after another booze-related incident in Christchurch in January, Guildford, who has since completed a 28-day course in a rehabilitation facility, will be obliged to more than just prove his fitness to Blackadder when he fronts for a fitness and conditioning test and medical examination.

Guildford, who will attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings as one of several conditions approved by the New Zealand Rugby Union, will feel he has to make up some ground after suddenly leaving the Crusaders in the pre-season.

Read, too, could have reason to feel miffed; his first season as captain has been marked by two losses and Guildford's withdrawal denied him a major strike weapon on attack.

Yet Read, Blackadder and chief executive Hamish Riach were adamant the Crusaders can provide the required support.

"From our point of view it doesn't really change too much. It is all about doing what is best for Zac and having him back in our team," Read said.

Blackadder also noted the Crusaders' prided themselves in not abandoning their mates.

"It gives us a second chance to get that part right, to make sure we can be here and can support him. It doesn't just finish now," Blackadder said. "It is going to be an on-going process probably for the rest of his life . . ."

Riach had absorbed lessons from when Guildford previously failed to keep his pledge to behave while under the influence.

Following an incident in Rarotonga, when he struck a stranger in a Rarotonga bar in late 2011, Guildford failed a promise not to drink for 12 months.

"We are committed to doing everything we can and that will probably be more than we did in the past," Riach said.

At a press conference at the NZRU offices in Wellington Guildford said he has been "powerless" against alcohol in the past. He now believed he could resist drinking.

"I've been away, I've seen the experts and had help. I have a great acceptance of who I am.

"My understanding was limited around alcoholism and the issue I had."

Guildford acknowledged the decision to accept professional help was driven by the problems that kept occurring when he drank.

"Look at the damage it's [alcohol] caused for me.

"It's a pretty small sacrifice and the road I've been down for the past 60 days has been a happy one and a pleasant one and one I want to continue."

Like a number of professional rugby players, Guildford also enjoys a bet.

Asked if he was a problem gambler he stated: "Alcohol's the main thing for me but I have addictive tendencies. Where some people eat two pieces of chocolate, I'll eat two blocks."

Guildford will not play against the Bulls at AMI Stadium tomorrow night.

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