Clermont going after Crusader Zac Guildford
Crusaders wing Zac Guildford has been linked with French club Clermont.
Guildford, who has played 10 tests for the All Blacks and is contracted to the Crusaders until the end of next season, has attracted interest from Clermont who are searching for a replacement for former All Black finisher Sitiveni Sivivatu.
Guildford, 24, last represented the All Blacks against Ireland in Christchurch in 2012. His agent, the Essentially Group's Simon Porter, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.
Guildford also has a year to run on his Hawke's Bay deal and if he moves to France it would be after the Super Rugby competition ended.
Hawke's Bay chief executive Mike Bishop and coach Craig Philpott said they had heard nothing about a potential deal between Guildford and Clermont.
"There's always speculation about Zac Guildford - there has been for several years - and a number of our players," Bishop said. "I haven't heard anything for certain about Zac. These things come and go."
Philpott said it was around now that northern hemisphere clubs began to look at bolstering their rosters. "You hear all sorts of things about players at this time of the year," he said.
However, it's believed Clermont are serious about grabbing Guildford.
If he signs he will play under the new coaching staff of Franck Azema and ex-All Blacks forward Jono Gibbes. Current coach Vern Cotter is in his last season before becoming Scotland's head coach.
Bishop confirmed Guildford's provincial contract wasn't watertight.
"Every Super Rugby player has an exit-clause when that competition finishes and Zac is no different."
Sivivatu, who joined Clermont in late 2011 and proved one of their best performers, has joined French club champions Castres on a lucrative three-year deal.
Guildford's decision to look at an overseas club is no great surprise.
Although he is still relatively young and has stated he has a desire to represent the All Blacks again, the rise of newcomers Charles Piutau and Frank Halai alongside the more experienced Cory Jane, Ben Smith and Julian Savea means All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has done a successful job of increasing his depth of talent ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
It has also reduced Guildford's chances of adding to his All Blacks caps.
The only way Hawke's Bay could compete with wealthy Clermont was to take their chances in a lottery, admitted Bishop.
"The only way we can do that is if we win Lotto. In many ways New Zealand rugby can't compete. It is just the chance of representing the All Blacks that keeps many players in this country."
Guildford, who admitted he was an alcoholic last summer, sruggled to find his best form when he returned to the Crusaders from a short suspension in March.
When he failed to secure a contract with an overseas club, Guildford re-signed with the Crusaders for 2014.
A sound season with Hawke's Bay helped him gain selection for the Maori All Blacks' short tour of Canada and the United States.