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
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