NZRU offers to 'help' Guildford
The New Zealand Rugby Union is not about to discard troubled All Blacks wing Zac Guildford. They will do their best to help him recover from his alcohol addiction.
This follows the latest in a string of alcohol-fuelled incidents involving the 22-year-old player.
According to reports Guildford turned up wet, naked and bleeding at Trader Jacks - on the main island of Rarotonga on the Cook Islands. He then punched a man who asked him if he needed help, before staggering to the bar and punching a 60-year-old Australian man across the back of the head.
He then climbed on to the stage before running into the bar's kitchen, where staff covered him with an apron. He then took off into the night with a group of women he had been partying with earlier.
TV reports on Monday said that Guildford had gone to the bar after escaping from police, who had picked him up after he got into a fight over lost scooter keys.
Police apprehended Guildford after the Trader Jacks incident and were taking him to hospital when he leapt out of the van and into a lagoon to try a second escape.
The attempt failed and he spent the night in a police cell, the reports said.
The incident follows another in August, when Guildford broke All Blacks team rules by hitting the town after the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup victory against Australia at Eden Park.
In September, Guildford held a press conference promising to address what he admitted were alcohol issues.
However, NZRU Professional Rugby General Manager Neil Sorensen said the union was largely in the dark about the details of what happened, and the first thing it had to do was to "find out the facts".
"The second thing we will do is help the guy if he is in trouble."
"Again, our first move is to really say: 'How can we help this guy?', that's the first thing. But we've got to establish the facts and it sounds like he got up to something. We are not denying that."
All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka is believed to have joined Guildford in Rarotonga to lend his support and start the process of his recovery.
The NZRU boss said they will do all they can to help Guildford.
"He's had some alcohol-related issues in the past and we've worked hard with Zac... Many people have, and we'll continue to do so. He's a good young man."
Guildford was on leave, but the NZRU still expected players to take a commonsense approach to their behaviour and alcohol consumption, Sorensen said.
This approach was in stark contrast to England, who axed captain Mike Tindall for lying about his infamous off-field antics during the World Cup, and also fined him £25,000 ($40,000).
Tindall had been married to Queen Elizabeth II's grand-daughter for only six weeks when photos and footage of a boozy night out with teammates at the World Cup in New Zealand showed him in a compromising situation with a woman who was clearly not his wife, Zara Phillips.
Swiftly posted on social networking sites, the images and the veteran player's failure to acknowledge or apologise for them overshadowed England's World Cup campaign almost up to the moment the former champions lost in the quarterfinals a month later.
Even then, the 33-year-old Tindall might have survived with his career - if not his reputation - intact.
But the one-time World Cup winner and captain admitted to misleading officials when questioned about the September 11 night out, and England's Rugby Football Union ended its review of the case last Friday by dropping Tindall from its elite player squad and fining him £25,000 (US$40,000).
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder also expressed his support for his player, saying Guildford needed support rather than judgment after the alleged incident in the Cook Islands.
"Well he's really hurt, he's feeling shame and real embarrassment, I really feel for him," Blackadder told ONE News.
"He obviously needs some clinical help and he needs some people help to put his life back together, help get his emotion back in check, understand what's driving this behaviour.
"He now acknowledges he needs help, and I just don't think we should judge him, I think during this really terrible time we need to be there to support him.
"One thing that I do think he needs is to have rugby back in his life. He needs support of all his family and his friends, and he needs to be in a good supportive environment.
"There's no point in taking him through the judiciary process right here and now when he needs more than that... this is more of an issue than a one-night drinking binge," said Blackadder.
All Blacks teammate Cory Jane also leapt to Guildford's defence, tweeting: "Zac's a good mate and I support him."
Guildford, meanwhile, also received support from Australian dual international Wendell Sailor.
Sailor said the 22-year-old was a "very talented player" and did not agree with calls for Guildford to be banned from the All Blacks.
Sailor knows a fair bit about off-field indiscretions having been involved in a few himself, before being banned from rugby for two years for using cocaine.
He told ONE News that Guildford should be offered more support to address his drinking problems.
"I'm sick of people saying rip up his contract," Sailor said.
"I know it is about respect and playing for your country and your province but also we're human and it's human nature to make mistakes.
"It's about getting up, dusting yourself off and getting the right people around you, he's a young guy he's got the world at his feet and I think counselling is the way to go."
New Zealand Rugby Players' Association Executive Director Rob Nichol told Radio Live that the organisation had faith in Guildford and would continue to work with him.
"When you have these sorts of issues the hardest part is actually addressing them," he said.
"He's going to need a lot of help and a lot of support and he's going to up and down in that process.
"There was a lot of work put around Zac after the incidents just prior to and during the World Cup. It's not uncommon for a player to go through this scenario and have a slip up.
"We want to persevere around these young kids and when they are struggling we want to be there and help them and not turn our backs, whether that takes six months, a year or longer. New Zealand rugby and sport in general is based on values and mateship and the guy is going through a difficult time.
"You've got to work out how you can best add value and hope that things come right.
"The support is there but ultimately this is not a sporting issue, this is a serious societal issue."
Guildford's agent Simon Porter said he would not comment or confirm whether he had spoken to his client.
"I'm not commenting, I know as much as you do and it's just not the right time, I'm sorry."