Rugby: Guildford can find a new home up north

By Doug Laing of Hawke's Bay Today -
Zac Guildford. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today
Zac Guildford. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today

Former Hawke's Bay rugby coach Peter Russell would welcome star player Zac Guildford into his winning team in the north of England if the Magpies star loses his contracts with the Canterbury Crusaders and the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"He'd thrive here," said Russell, speaking to Hawke's Bay Today from the UK where he's fashioned an unbeaten record with English rugby championship side, the Newcastle Falcons who, weather permitting, shoot for a 20th consecutive victory this weekend.

As was the case with many players, Russell fashioned a close coach-player relationship with Guildford after the pair's introduction to the Magpies in 2007, a type of relationship observers of team culture came to recognise as a signature of Russell's success with club and representative teams in Wellington and Wairarapa-Bush, as well as Hawke's Bay.

But Russell was already well aware of the teenager's potential. He played with the teen's father and uncle in Greytown before Guildford moved to Hawke's Bay and embarked on what has been a serious rugby career encompassing almost half the player's life of almost 24 years.

He was unhesitating in saying that if it were his choice he'd have Guildford with the Falcons next season, hopefully promoted to the English Premier competition from which the club was relegated last May.

It was after that demise that the Falcons appointed a new head coach, signing Russell, who had been without a new job six months after being rejected by the Hawke's Bay union despite a championship-winning 2011 season and three NPC top-division semifinals for the Magpies in his five seasons at the helm with departing assistant Tom Coventry.

He said the "silly-season" player-market has already started in Britain, with "agents all over the place".

But with barely half the northern season gone it would be months before he, club director of rugby Dean Richards and senior officers in the privately-owned club would know who's staying, going and possibly coming.

Russell said he and Guildford had been in contact about Christmas time, exchanging seasonal pleasantries, but without talk of a possible Northern Hemisphere season.

"I try to stay in touch with the boys," he said. "A few of them are already over here."

Players from New Zealand can get a boot through the changing-room door if they have English parents or grandparents, but he expected if Guildford were to be considered, it would be as an "international" player within the contract structure, with value according to All Blacks and Super Rugby status being a significant issue.

Guildford's future is unclear, with the Crusaders and the NZRFU considering disciplinary processes after the latest in a series of drinking-related misdemeanours, an alleged binge and a private home fracas on January 12.

Guildford has stood-down from the Crusaders squad pending inquiries, but with Russell and Hawke's Bay union CEO Mike Bishop noting none of the player's deviations have been while in the "Magpies environment," it is not thought any sanction from the higher authorities would stop Guildford playing for the Bay in this year's ITM Championship.

One former age grades teammate of Guildford, noting the extent of Guildford's serious rugby at such a young age, reckoned yesterday "he's still being a teenager", and Russell said, "He'll grow out of it".

Guildford's agent, fellow former Napier Boys' High School student and First XV player Simon Porter could not be reached for further comment yesterday.

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