If this is farewell to Zac Guildford now that he is taking off to play club rugby in France, it is time to anoint him as New Zealand's most unfortunate waste of talent in the last decade.

No one has imploded quite like Guildford. No player in the professional age has fallen as hard or as far or gone as spectacularly off course.

Rugby in this country hasn't thrown up many stories quite like Guildford's which is a mix of tragedy, addiction and a failure of personal responsibility.

It is undeniably sad that his career is so tainted, so memorable for all the wrong reasons and that his personal demons took ownership of him at such a young age, denying him the chance to become the star he was destined to be.


His decision to sign with the second division Nevers after failing for the second year in succession to win a Super Rugby contract is surely conclusive proof that he has no prospect of rekindling a meaningful professional career in New Zealand.

All hope has gone on that front because, to be brutal, no Super Rugby side is prepared to invest in a player who has consistently broken the trust of those who were prepared to invest in him.

At 29, Guildford will have to accept that he'll be seeing out the last of the years he has left in the minor leagues offshore. Such a fate would never have been considered remotely possible 10 years ago when the 2008 Super Rugby season kicked off with Guildford, still only 19, ranking as the hottest emerging player in the country.

Zac Guildford, Hawke's Bay Magpies at Park Island in Napier ahead of their ITM cup rugby match against Otago in 2015. photo / Paul Taylor
Zac Guildford, Hawke's Bay Magpies at Park Island in Napier ahead of their ITM cup rugby match against Otago in 2015. photo / Paul Taylor

A year later he made his All Blacks debut on the end-of-year tour to Japan and Europe. He beat a handful of his peers such as Aaron Cruden and Israel Dagg to national selection and on that trip he won a starting spot ahead of Ben Smith and Joe Rokocoko.

He was held up as the future in regard to back-three players - lightning quick, good in the war and willing to come off his wing and look for work.

He also showed remarkable composure for someone so young and with the 2011 World Cup destined to be a kick-and-chase tournament, the All Blacks coaches were predicting great things for Guildford.

But they had no idea the extent of the personal issues afflicting him. They didn't fully realise the extent of Guildford's alcohol and gambling addictions until they blew up after the 2011 World Cup.

For all the early promise and grand predictions, Guildford delivered four good seasons - 2009-2012 - before his addictions became unmanageable. He won 11 test caps when he was probably, with his given talent, good enough to win 50.

Both Dagg and Smith, who came on to the professional scene at about the same time as Guildford, have hit the half century and remain critical elements of the national set up.

Smith and Dagg have also provided some of the more memorable moments of the last decade: come up with big plays at critical times that have ingrained them in the public conscious for all the right reasons.

Guildford's legacy as a player is long forgotten because it contains precious few highlights and it is difficult to think of any other player who has been troubled in the same way to the same extent and come up so short.

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