Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders count the cost

Zac Guildford's Super Rugby team are right to expect the worst from his latest incident.

Adam Whitelock is a steady player with excellent defence, but he lacks Zac Guildford's speed. Photo / NZPA
Adam Whitelock is a steady player with excellent defence, but he lacks Zac Guildford's speed. Photo / NZPA

When Zac Guildford is sidelined for his latest alcohol-related incident - and unfortunately for him and the Crusaders it is a foregone conclusion - he won't be the only one to pay the price.

The former All Black's absence will leave the Crusaders light on pace and experience among their outside backs and could bring Sean Maitland's exit for the Glasgow Warriors last year into sharp relief.

A New Zealand Rugby Union misconduct hearing in Wellington this week will dictate the length of Guildford's ban - at best he faces a suspension, at worst he risks having his NZRU contract torn up - and it is understood the Crusaders are already looking into replacing him.

Todd Blackadder has a quality fullback in All Black Israel Dagg and good cover for the No 15 jersey in Tasman's Tom Marshall, but the Crusaders coach will be relying on big things from 22-year-old wing Johnny McNicholl, who topped the ITM try-scoring table last year with 10 in 11 matches as his Canterbury team made it five titles in row.

But although McNicholl often set the field alight in his two seasons for Canterbury, he has yet to play a Super Rugby match and the step up is an increasingly large one.

The Crusaders' other wing option is Adam Whitelock, a steady player with a good work rate and excellent defence but lacking Guildford's speed and ability to sniff out the try-line.

Guildford's alliance with Hawkes Bay mate Dagg often results in tries and he can also be effective running angles off first-five Dan Carter.

New Zealand Sevens player Kurt Baker is the only other specialist outside back option for the Crusaders after they picked him up in their wider training squad.

New Crusaders backs coaches Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger will be forced to consider new ways to breach opposition defences without little No 11 Guildford.

The pair replaced Daryl Gibson, now at the Waratahs, as Blackadder sought to add more attacking flair to a backline which failed to click as it should have over the past four seasons.

It's not a crisis for the Crusaders - they will quickly put this behind them and back themselves to cover for Guildford's absence - but it is an unpleasant disruption as they seek to win their first title since 2008.

The NZRU banned Guildford for four matches after his post-World Cup exploits in Rarotonga in 2011. He missed the Crusaders' round one fixture against the Blues last season, with the rest of the suspension served during the pre-season campaign.

The latest revelations appear to show that Guildford has yet to resolve the issues that surround him. He perhaps never will, but while the Crusaders will continue to support him while he is in their charge, once Guildford is gone he will need help from other sources.

Meanwhile, a weakened Crusaders will move on and look for others to help them add another title to the seven they already hold. Such is the ruthlessness of professional sport.


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