Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Guildford - his last chance

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Zac Guildford's drunken antics have probably put his rugby future in doubt. Gregor Paul looks at his career and asks if he derails, is it a great loss to the All Blacks?

Zac Guildford hasn't shown a capacity to change his ways. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Zac Guildford hasn't shown a capacity to change his ways. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There are some who believe Zac Guildford is a troubled genius. He's certainly troubled, but the genius part is harder to buy.

Guildford is a good player rather than a great one. He's a peripheral All Black rather than a core selection and his potential appears finite - to the extent he may possibly already be near his summit.

There are better wings than him around and it would be disappointing in the extreme to believe there won't soon be many more.

He's one of those players who is destined to be a never-ending saga - an endless string of mistakes followed by ... mistakes. Those types - and they are types - never really prove to be worth the agony of perseverance. Only the most demanding and focused athletes thrive in the modern game.

Both Richie McCaw and Dan Carter haven't put a foot wrong off the field in a decade, proving that greatness can't be balanced with a propensity to glug down a skinful and see what happens, the way it maybe could in the days of old.

Guildford hasn't shown a capacity to change his ways and following this latest reported escapade, it may be time to get out the calculator and add up all the positives he's likely to offer and assess whether further investment in him and his career is likely to be worth the bother.

It's starting to feel like he's destined to be more regular front page news than back and at the very least he needs to be put on a final warning, sign strict agreements to stay off the pop and attend counselling.

Even then, that might just be delaying the inevitable. This is a young man on a mission to self-destruct. It might be best if there is no one of value to the national game around him when he finally goes boom. That means keeping his best mate Israel Dagg well away from the blast zone.

Dagg and Guildford are the human version of Slinky Malinki and Stickybeak Syd - delivering all the capers of their fictional alter egos without so much of the endearing charm.

There was tolerance at first when they both came on to the professional scene. The exuberance of youth is often hard to contain when the wallet is suddenly fat and the pub full of friendly, admiring faces. The best players move past the first flush quickly enough which is why patience has worn thin. It has worn particularly thin with Guildford.

He was forced to front the media in Christchurch during the World Cup to own up to a drunken night after the final Tri Nations test. The punishment didn't appear to fit the crime, but his penance was not so much for his post-game meltdown in Brisbane - it was for the litany of other misdemeanours that had stayed under the radar.

Guildford's rap sheet is believed to be long and infamous - the kind that would make a mother weep and one in which the All Blacks had become increasingly agitated and disappointed.

The All Blacks have a supportive and forgiving culture. The players believe in the brotherhood and management have a holistic view to career development. But once they have provided the help, delivered all the messages, there comes a point where the individual has to change.

High performance is the All Blacks business - not being pseudo rehabilitation centres and in time, when too much management resource is deployed working at the latter, it impacts on the former.

The best hope for Guildford now is that he's on his last chance - that he will, possibly against all better judgement, be allowed to prove he's not a lost cause.

But sadly he probably is. He's a recidivist offender and that's a concern for the New Zealand Rugby Union; trust is hard to build when it's broken so easily and so regularly.

The national body already knows that Dagg is most definitely worth saving. His star shone brightly throughout the World Cup and he's got the goods to be a player of memorable significance. And maybe this is coming down to something of a Sophie's choice - maybe only one of Guildford or Dagg can be managed through to a better life.

- Herald on Sunday

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

Read more by Gregor Paul

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