Former All Black Zac Guildford on mental struggles, moment he hit rock bottom

Zac Guildford ended up playing amateur rugby for Wairarapa Bush as he battled back from his struggles with depression.
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Zac Guildford ended up playing amateur rugby for Wairarapa Bush as he battled back from his struggles with depression.

Former All Black Zac Guildford has revealed the moment he decided to take ownership of the personal meltdown that had left his rugby career in tatters.

The 29-year-old 10-test All Black is playing second division rugby in France for Nevers, and in an interview with Eurosport has spoken out on the struggles he went through in the wake of his father's death and the depths he hit before deciding to make the necessary changes in his life.

In 2016, Guildford had lost his Super Rugby contract with the Waratahs, was unwanted in the professional ranks in New Zealand and had resorted to playing a season in the Heartland competition with Wairarapa Bush when he decided to make the changes he had to.

"It took me to lose all those contracts and end up chopping trees down with my granddad and living with my grandparents to realise maybe I do love this game and I still want to give it another shot," he told Eurosport.

READ MORE:
Guildford reveals his depression battle
* Zac Guildford returning to French rugby
* Heartland stint helps revive Zac's career 
* Guildford gets green light for Waikato
* Former All Black 'loving' life in Hamilton

The former Crusaders and Hurricanes winger revisited the death of his father in the stands while he was winning the world under-20 championship in Japan with the New Zealand team in 2009. It was a tragedy he never really got over.

Waikato offered Guildford a contract for the Mitre 10 Cup last year.
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Waikato offered Guildford a contract for the Mitre 10 Cup last year.

"I made the All Blacks when I was 20 ... the year my dad passed away. I decided I'm just going to try as hard as I can for him. It was a very emotional time for myself and my family.

"But then at the same time I was hurting, I was in pain because I'd lost my dad. I was doing whatever I could to escape, whether that be rugby, whether that be drinking alcohol.

"So my life was catastrophic ... everyone thought I was living the dream in being an All Black, but in my head I was going crazy."

Guildford said he "wasn't ready" for his first French rugby experience with Clermont when he was 24, but soon found himself in a career spiral.

"When I lost my contract at the Waratahs, after Clermont, I was still doing the same dumb stuff, the same old Zac. Then I went home back to Napier, no contract, no money, and I woke up in my friend's garage one morning after a big night and [thought] I want to change.

"That's when I decided to go play amateur rugby in New Zealand in the town I was born in Wairarapa Bush. That was a changing point in my life."

Guildford last appeared in Waikato colours during the last national sevens tournament earlier this year.
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Guildford last appeared in Waikato colours during the last national sevens tournament earlier this year.

After his stint with Wairarapa Bush in the Heartland Championship in 2016, Guildford was offered a chance to play sevens that summer for Waikato by the team's coach, former All Black and New Zealand sevens winger Roger Randle.

Guildford then moved to Hamilton in November with nothing set in stone. He had no job and no contract when first leaving for Waikato.

In 2017, he started playing in Waikato's club competition for Hamilton Old Boys, who won that season's competition with Guildford mainly used at fullback during their campaign.

The Hamilton club also helped Guildford find employment and he was working full-time for sportswear manufacturer Kukri.

New Zealand Rugby initially said they weren't ready to welcome Guildford back but he was given another chance and signed for Waikato's 2017 Mitre 10 Cup team.

He was heavily involved in the first half of Waikato's campaign, which ended in relegation to the Premiership, but a hamstring injury suffered mid-season effectively ended his playing time for the Mooloos.

No Super Rugby team offered Guildford a contract for 2018 and it was announced in March that he was returning to France after agreeing to sign for Nevers.

Guildford's last outing before leaving for France was in the national sevens tournament earlier this year and he captained Waikato to the title in Rotorua.

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