All Blacks: Guildford facing suspension over misconduct

By Dylan Cleaver

Zac Guildford. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Zac Guildford. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Rugby bosses have promised to keep supporting troubled wing Zac Guildford, though they have not ruled out forcing him to take time out from the game.

A contrite Guildford was spirited out of Rarotonga and arrived back in the country yesterday, vowing to clean up his act and expressing a desire to get back into rugby as quickly as possible with the Crusaders.

It might not be that simple.

Neil Sorensen, the NZRU's general manager of professional rugby, said Guildford's immediate playing future would be determined by a misconduct process over the coming weeks and by the advice they receive from an external counselling organisation.

It seems inconceivable that Guildford, 22, could escape without suspension and a hefty fine. Even though he avoided police charges, so extreme was his behaviour in Rarotonga - he attacked two patrons at a bar while drunk and naked, shouted sexually offensive obscenities at a triathlete and escaped police custody - that anything less would set a precedent making it almost impossible to use such a sanction against players in the future.

A fallback option might be to insist Guildford takes some time out to address his issues, without actually calling it a suspension. That would give them the NZRU the high ground in being seen to be a caring employer, though would not satisfy those who believe they've treated Guildford with kid gloves.

"Like any of us who have jobs, you can't keep bringing your employer and the employer's brand into disrepute," Sorensen said.

"At some stage unless they help themselves to a certain extent ... you have to say 'well we can't help this guy any more'. That will be the stage we get to before we talk about ripping up contracts."

Sorensen said by engaging outside help, the NZRU was acknowledging that sport alone could not solve all Guildford's alcohol-related issues.

"From an employer's perspective, the events in Rarotonga have been incredibly disappointing and Zac needs to be accountable for his actions. This will involve Zac going through our misconduct process over the coming weeks.

"However, it is fairly clear that there are some very big issues involved here, and rugby cannot provide all the solutions on our own. We are working with a professional counselling organisation which will provide guidance and input as to the next steps for the coming days, weeks and months."

Sorensen said the organisation could play a big role in what steps the NZRU takes in terms of disciplining Guildford.

"When we do receive professional advice, they might say yes, time out from rugby is the right thing to do. Conversely they might say no, absolutely not, he has to stay in rugby and have some stability in his life."

Rugby is yet to give Guildford the stability his bosses have sought, with Guildford's drinking coming under scrutiny after the Tri Nations final.

The player himself understandably sees it differently:"My job is to play rugby and if I do have the privilege of keeping my contract and playing for the Crusaders, then it gives me a few months to get ready and get in tip-top shape for the season," Guildford said upon arrival at Auckland Airport.

"I'm just hoping the New Zealand Rugby Union have a bit of faith in me and I can put the right structures in place and prove that this time I'm prepared to give it a good crack and put myself in a better position to be a better person.

"If being an All Black again flows from that but at the moment I'm just concentrating on myself and the Crusaders."

- NZ Herald

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