All Black looks to turn page

2014-08-29 09:04
Zac Guildford (AFP)

Clermont - Zac Guildford is looking to put his past alcohol-fuelled misdemeanours behind him and launch a new chapter in his impressive rugby career with Clermont.

The bad-boy of New Zealand rugby has had his fair share of run-ins with both rugby authorities and the law, but now he says he has a more mature head on his 25-year-old shoulders.

"I made some mistakes in my youth. The time had come to make some changes in my life and coming to Clermont was one of the best I could make," he said.

The flying wing, who has scored six tries in his 11 matches for the Blacks, has signed a two-year contract with the 2013 European Cup finalists with the option for another year.

He had terminated his contract with New Zealand Rugby Union in May, freeing him for a move to Europe.

The move to the perennial under-performers, who will be coached by Franck Azema this season after Kiwi Vern Cotter left to take over the Scotland reins at the end of last season, will be a chance to not just turn a page but put a host of unsavoury incidents behind him.

Guildford's notoriety reached a peak when he attacked two men in a bar in the Cook Islands in a nude, drunken rage, which led to him admitting to having alcoholism problems.

"An embarrassing and difficult moment," was how he described that incident upon his unveiling at the Marcel Michelin stadium.

He also admitted he needs to lose some weight but he's feeling positive about his prospects in the Top 14.

"In New Zealand people never stop reminding him about his extra-sporting scandals," said Clermont's sporting director Jean-Marc Lhermet.

"Consequently he wanted to cut ties and get a long way away from it to a universe which will help him to fulfil his exceptional potential to its maximum."

Amongst all his brushes with authority, it is easy to forget just what a talent Guildford is.

He made his Super 15 debut for the Wellington Hurricanes in 2008, scoring three tries in six matches.

He was a world under-19 champion with the Baby Blacks in 2007 and claimed two more world titles with the Juniors in 2008-09.

He made his debut for the All Blacks in 2009 and was part of the victorious World Cup squad two years later on home soil, scoring four tries in his one and only match, a 79-15 thrashing of Canada.

But his career has been derailed by his alcohol problems and he needed to take time out in 2013 to receive treatment.

This year he failed to make a single appearance for the Crusaders, whom he joined in 2010, as they reached the Super 15 final, only to be beaten by the Waratahs 33-32 in a thrilling match.

However, he did play on the left wing when the Crusaders lost 18-13 to the Reds in the 2011 Super 15 final.

"He's won everything, or almost, in his country. His great technical quality, aligned with physical qualities, is his speed and explosiveness in attack which makes him a player out of the ordinary," added Lhermet.

Those looking for reasons as to why such a gifted player would go so spectacularly off the rails need look little further than a personal tragedy in 2009 when Guildford's father died suddenly.

"At that time I was just a kid, I wasn't really mature," he said.

Guildford's father suffered a heart-attack while watching his son in the 2009 Junior World Cup final in Tokyo - a 44-28 victory over England.

"Losing my father, who on top of that was my example, was a tragedy for me. It was unexpected, I didn't know what to do any more.

"It took me a long time to get over it."

But now he insists he feels good in his skin and has left his past behind him.

"I hope to concentrate on my job and stay here as long as possible to show you my best rugby," he added.

Lhermet for one is convinced he has a lot to offer.

"We have no doubts about his abilities. His desire for redemption associated with his sporting potential could create miracles for Clermont and in the Top 14," said Lhermet.

Read more on:    all blacks  |  zac guildford  |  rugby

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