Guildford revels in World Cup call-up
August 23, 2011
Guildford is back in the side after being exiled to the Commenwealth Games squad © Getty Images
Winger Zac Guildford has completed a remarkable comeback after being named in the 30-man All Blacks World Cup squad.
Exiled to the Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning sevens squad at New Delhi last year, Guildford was on Tuesday rewarded with a place in Graham Henry's party charged with bringing the William Webb Ellis Cup back to New Zealand. The 22-year-old's All Blacks career reached a crossroads after the June internationals last year and he has certainly taken a circuitous route to the sport's pinnacle event in New Zealand.
Dropped from the Test side after diffident performances against Ireland and Wales, Guildford was sent to the sevens squad to finesse his play under the hardest of taskmasters, coach and fitness freak Gordon Tietjens. While his fellow finishers were vying for game time in last year's Tri-Nations, Guildford was dispatched to Dubai and India in a bid to recapture the form that saw him debut on the 2009 end of year tour.
"He had some things to work on," said All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith, the mentor who suggested remedial work under Tietjens. "So we sent him to the sevens. We wanted him to work on his ability to beat men; we thought his speed had dwindled a wee bit too."
Far from considering the sevens squad a demotion, Guildford made the necessary improvements and continued reviving his career with the Crusaders in the inaugural Super Rugby. "The sevens taught me a lot of things," Guildford said. "Titch (Tietjens) thrashes you out on the field and makes you work really hard so when it comes to the game it's a lot easier. It was some of the hardest training I've ever done."
That greater aerobic capacity enabled him to up his work rate, a key factor behind his selection as the squad's only genuine winger ahead of Hosea Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu. "We just like his work rate, his energy, his availability especially on that little inside ball," head coach Henry said. "He's probably played with a little bit more energy than the others, a little bit more desire."
Guildford passed his audition against a South African B side in Wellington, the 40-7 victory last month that Cory Jane also used to press his claims as one of the hybrid fullback-cum-wingers. Still, Guildford doubted he had done enough until the Cup squad were named behind closed doors in South Africa.
"If you told me seven or eight months ago I'd be in this room I'd say 'you're joking'," he said. "All the hard work's paid off but the job's only halfway done. We've still got to go on and win the thing."
The All Blacks' wretched World Cup history means there will be no lack of motivation for this squad to succeed where their five predecessors have failed, although victory in the final at Auckland on October 23 would be even more poignant for Guildford considering his last Cup final experience is tinged with sadness.
His father Robert collapsed and died while watching his boy play and eventually win the under-20 World Cup in Tokyo two years ago. He will dedicate the upcoming tournament to his father's memory.
"It'll be good to do it for him. I can always feel him in spirit at the games. Each game I play is for him so it makes this a little bit more special."
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