Back in his first season of top-level provincial rugby for some time, Waikato winger Zac Guildford is a man determined to maintain momentum as his bid to ‘prove the critics wrong’ continues.
Talking to Last Word On Rugby, the former All Black and Crusader says he has found new hope since making home in Hamilton and finding a place playing for Waikato.
“I’m enjoying my rugby now more than ever. I really believed that I would be able to get back to this level and I’m thankful that Roger and everyone here at Waikato gave me the chance.”
Guildford is a dividing figure in New Zealand Rugby, and a man that’s had to survive through absolute hell and back. Survive being the key word in all of this, because there was a time when even Guildford himself couldn’t have cared less if he ceased to exist. Not just as a rugby player, but as a person too.
A Promising Career Haunted By Issues Away From The Field
Guildford featured for the All Blacks 11 times during a three year period. His International career was haunted by off field issues. Those issues included alcohol addiction, mental health, and at its worst point, Guildford went through a long period of suicidal thoughts.
Stints playing rugby in Europe only escalated the issues, and once a failed attempt at returning to Super Rugby was complete, Guildford was at rock bottom. In fact, the winger was still dealing with resentment issues towards the Crusaders after having been cut from the team where he first made a major name for himself.
By that point, a lot of rugby pundits in New Zealand had all but given up on Guildford.
Zac Guildford: A Man Determined To Defy His Critics
A lot of Guildford’s critics don’t actually know anything about the real reason why things turned so dire so early into a promising professional rugby career. None of those reasons are an excuse, especially in the eyes of the man himself, but they were substantial and varied.
But as much as those critics comment from the outside looking in, Guildford hears them, and it serves as one of the best motivators.
“There are a lot of people that used to doubt me, and many still do, so that gives me a lot of motivation to keep working toward improving myself and proving them wrong.”
The other main motivator for Guildford has lasted throughout the battles away from the field. The love of rugby, pure and simple.
“I just love rugby, this game is what makes me happy and it’s also what helped me beat these addictions.”
Recently, Guildford has started talking publicly about mental health issues and addiction to alcohol. The 28-year old believes that more awareness needs to be raised, and is a keen advocate for fellow members of New Zealand Rugby to open up about their own struggles.
On the field, Guildford played a full season of Heartland Championship with Wairapa Bush in 2016 before shifting to the Waikato to play club rugby for Hamilton Old Boys. Guildford had immediate success with Old Boys, helping take the club all the way to the championship to earn selection for Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Where To Next For Zac Guildford?
If the status quo remains, Guildford is on track to be another predominant scorer for Waikato, as he was for Wairapa Bush and Old Boys. Just where that leads Guildford to next remains unknown.
Could Colin Cooper and the Chiefs come calling? Guildford says that the ball is firmly in their court, not his.
Waikato continue their Mitre 10 Cup campaign against Auckland tonight at Eden Park. The province hasn’t won the Provincial Championship since 2006, and has suffered relatively poor results season wise in the years since.
“Main photo credit”