Rugby: Guildford could make quick return

Zac Guildford.
Zac Guildford.
Zac Guildford could make a remarkable return to rugby with the Crusaders within the next couple of months.

The All Black wing, who is taking self-imposed time out from the game after a recent alcohol-related incident in which he allegedly assaulted a party-goer in Christchurch, is in the midst of a one-month's course of "intensive" treatment at an undisclosed North Island location.

It is understood Guildford has accepted he has an alcohol problem - he had previously served a four-week ban from the game after an incident in Rarotonga - which could lead to a quicker than expected return to the field.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder would dearly love to have his wing back in the fold - provided certain conditions are met.

"If he sticks to getting professional help, we'd love to have him back," Blackadder said.

"It's not so much a case of misconduct for us," he added. "It's an illness and for the first time he has admitted that and is getting the right help.

"If all the other parties agreed - Zac, his representatives and helpers and the NZRU - then returning to rugby could form an important part of his rehabilitation."

If, as seems likely, Guildford wants to return, then the NZRU would be the biggest stumbling block to a comeback, but the Crusaders hoped the national body would show compassion.

Privately, the Crusaders hope that as Guildford is seeking medical treatment and will have already missed all three pre-season games and a couple of competition matches, that would be an appropriate penalty.

Guildford is on only a one-year contract with the NZRU and will know that this is his last chance, another reason why he could be given another shot. After the Rarotonga incident, Guildford admitted only that he had drinking "issues".

A reasonably quick return would help the Crusaders immensely as they are relatively short of quality wings with the season yet to kick off. New Zealand sevens player Kurt Baker, a wider training group player at the Crusaders, has a grade two hamstring strain which could take up to six weeks to heal.

Canterbury try-scoring machine Johnny McNicholl, about to start his first season at the next level, has been under an injury cloud but has recovered from a sore back and will play in this weekend's pre-season match against the Highlanders in Oamaru.

Other good news has come via the signing of Canterbury wing Telusa Veainu, a Highlanders wider training group member, who will join the Crusaders on a three or four-week contract. The short-term nature of the deal is also an indication that the Crusaders are quietly confident they could get their hands on Guildford sooner rather than later.

There is a feeling at the franchise that they have adequate cover among the outside backs. They have a qualify fullback in Israel Dagg and an up-and-coming No15 in Tom Marshall, both of whom can fill in on the wing, a seasoned campaigner in Adam Whitelock and an exciting prospect in McNicholl. Veainu, an elusive player, is also capable.

However, they will be keeping a careful watch on all five players in Oamaru, knowing they can't afford another injury and hoping for positive news from Guildford further north.

- Patrick McKendry of APNZ