Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby winger Zac Guildford's return to playing mode will be music to the ears of referees around the country.
Guildford's antics as a first-time "waterboy" during the Magpies' win against Otago last weekend caught the attention of Wellington referee Garrett Williamson and his assistants on several occasions. If the former All Black wasn't given his teammates water at the wrong time, he wasn't holding back on advice for Williamson.
"Some of it was frustration at not being able to play and there were times when I thought the boys were being hard done by. It was probably a bit biased and then there were times when the opposition waterboy [former Magpies fitness trainer Karl Bloxham] was trying to tell me what to do, so I told him where to go too," Guildford said.
When the Magpies take on the Manawatu Turbos in today's ITM Cup crossover clash at Palmerston North's FMG Stadium, there will be no waterboy antics from Guildford. After four matches on the sidelines with a hamstring injury he will start on the left wing.
"While it was good to give Bucky [Richard Buckman] a rest from the waterboy work, I'm happy to be able to contribute as a player again," Guildford said.
"If we play to our potential we've got a good chance of beating the Turbos. If we defend like we did against Otago and attack like we did against Bay of Plenty it will make for a good game ... we've been struggling for consistency all season."
Guildford's return couldn't have been better timed with the Turbos today, Canterbury on Wednesday night at McLean Park, where he will be up against many of his Crusaders teammates, and next weekend's Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato in Hamilton.
"We're not allowed to mention the shield game, as beating Manawatu has to be our primary focus. But the shield game is in the back of our minds," Guildford said.
"We've had an average season but we could end it well with three good games."
Asked if making the All Blacks' end-of-year tour was a goal, he replied: "Doing well for the Magpies is the main focus. If I don't make the ABs, hopefully I will make the Maori All Blacks as that's a team I haven't been a part of yet.
"From what I hear, it's not as serious as the ABs but you still play some good rugby and have a good time at the same time."
While Guildford makes his eagerly awaited return, his partner, jockey Sam Spratt, will today ride in the feature race of the final meeting of the Spring Carnival in Hastings. Ironically she will ride a horse named Back in Black.
Everything going to plan, it should only be a matter of time before Guildford is back in black, either with the ABs or as a first time Maori All Black.
Guildford's return and the starting of tighthead prop Brendon Edmonds and lock Tom Parsons are features of the Magpies team announced by coach Craig Philpott before yesterday's Captain's Run at McLean Park. Philpott said Edmonds had been performing well off the bench and had a chance to start in a week (the Magpies play three games within seven days) in which the props' workload must be monitored closely.
Parsons, a son of former Magpies loosie Rod Parsons, will make his Cup starting XV debut.
"Tom has also been performing well off the bench. He has the chance to bring energy and enthusiasm when starting alongside the old master in Ross Kennedy," Philpott said.
Adam Bradey returns from injury to start at openside flanker and Trent Boswell-Wakefield returns from injury to take the substitute loosie role. Assistant coach Danny Lee has given Isaac Paewai the starting halfback role ahead of Hurricane Chris Eaton.
"Isaac has been training really well. Him and Ihaia [West] were an outstanding club combination and Chris has an opportunity to give his battered body a rest. He has the chance to freshen up both physically and mentally but at the same time be ready to go at any stage," Lee said.
Prop Ben Tameifuna was unavailable because of personal commitments in Australia.
Unavailable through injuries were Buckman, Nick McLennan, Dan Waenga and Tua Saseve.
While the Turbos will miss the services of midfield back Matenga Baker with a knee injury, they welcome No8 James Oliver, the son of former All Black Frank Oliver, after a lengthy injury spell. Key players in the Turbos' starting XV include captain and blindside flanker Nick Crosswell, Chiefs lock Michael Fitzgerald and New Zealand Under-20s centre Jason Emery.
Expect former Magpies captain and lock Reece Robinson to be a force off the bench if given the opportunity.
With the Magpies due to play their final home game on Wednesday night, the Hawke's Bay union has introduced a number of initiatives to ensure McLean Park is packed to the rafters, including the "Unison Kids Fun Zone" which is guaranteed to be a hit with all the family.
The zone, which will be based behind the Graeme Lowe stand, will include the rugby rampage, a giant rugby-themed obstacle course, a bouncy castle, face painting and loads of giveaways including Magpies posters, stickers and badges. Powerman and Kahu will also visit. The union has also introduced a $12.50 children's stand ticket in all of the McLean Park stands.
The curtainraiser will be a North v South Ross Shield encounter, and the much-anticipated final of the Tremains Rippa Rugby comp sees Tiaho from Wairoa taking on Frimley from Hastings. Kick-off for the main match is 7.35pm and the main gates open from 5.30pm.
Tickets are on sale through Ticket Direct and can be bought online at www.ticketdirect.co.nz or at any Ticket Direct outlet in the Bay. Adults from $10 and children from $5 - note, booking fees apply.