Zac scapegoat says Bay uncle



Hawke's Bay All Black Zac Guildford was made a scapegoat for last month's post-test drinking session, according to his uncle Daren Guildford.

"He wasn't the only one in the All Blacks camp drinking and in my opinion he was made the scapegoat," Mr Guildford said. "If he has a drinking problem then half the population of 22-year-olds in this country have got one."

The brother of Zac's late father, Rob Guildford, was commenting on last night's press conference involving his nephew and All Blacks manager Darren Shand. Mr Shand confirmed the winger had drunk excessively after the Tri Nations loss to Australia in Brisbane last month, breaking an agreement he made with the All Black coaches.

Mr Shand said they had become concerned about Zac's drinking and behaviour earlier in the Tri Nations campaign. They met him in Port Elizabeth to request he tone down the drinking and Zac agreed..

Mr Guildford told Hawke's Bay Today he had spoken to his nephew last night.

"Zac was good as gold, but at the same time brassed off with what he did," he said. "He has learnt the hard way that when you wear the All Black jersey there are certain standards you have to adhere to. He was pretty positive and the guys are rallying around him. "We are certain he has taken the rap for a lot of the others and we are confident he will bounce back and prove to everyone he can stay in the ABs environment. Zac told me he can't wait to get his chance in the World Cup and now it's a case of head down and bum up."

As a result of his agreement with the All Black coaches Zac was put on a self-improvement programme. Mr Shand was adamant Zac's behaviour was not a factor in his non-appearance in a World Cup match to date.

The seven-test All Black last night admitted to a drinking problem.

"I think there has been [a drinking issue] and that's why I'm trying to make positive steps," he said. "I feel like I let myself down and the team down. There was a poor performance on the field and I felt the pressure which led to me making a few bad decisions off the field.

"I'm in the All Blacks and I want to stay here. I don't want to throw that opportunity away."

Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union CEO Mike Bishop said today Zac had no drinking or behaviour-related issues in the Magpies environment. "Zac is a great young guy who has had a lot of setbacks off the field in the last couple of years, most notably the death of his father. We are all confident he will bounce back."

Last month All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen said Zac's selection came after he "worked hard at making good decisions particularly when he's socialising".

"He's worked hard and he has a plan in place and a huge desire to be successful - and he doesn't need any off-field stuff-ups. He's got the reward for it."

It may be too late for Zac to come in from the cold during this World Cup. His performance in Brisbane pushed him to the back of a long queue of aspiring wings. And Zac's off-field dramas have hardly endeared him to a coaching panel that have made high personal standards a feature of selection since 2004.

His willingness to acknowledge his issues and obvious remorse for his lapse in judgment have been well received but it appeared Zac's only real hope of featuring now is if there was injury to others.

Longer term he may be able to resurrect his test career as the All Blacks have been forgiving of others with similar issues in the past. In 2008 Jimmy Cowan's contract was close to being terminated for repeated alcohol abuse. He earned a reprieve and after accepting help he was able to establish himself as the first-choice All Black halfback.

The All Blacks senior management team hold similar hopes for Zac.

"I met with Zac and his agent and talked to him about his behaviour particularly in relation to alcohol," Mr Shand said. "One of the things about this environment is that we like to support players. We need to keep this in context - this is a minor incident. He breached an agreement he had with the coaches, he didn't break any protocols."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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