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Zac Guildford joins provincial minnows

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Former All Black Zac Guildford joins provincial minnows in Heartland Championship

Former All Blacks wing Zac Guildford has returned to New Zealand provincial rugby after joining Ngati Porou East Coast, who are yet to win a match since 2013, in the Heartland Championship.

It adds another chapter to the storied – and at times troubled – career of the 30-year-old, who revealed earlier this month that he was contemplating giving up elite rugby entirely after failing to secure a contract with Waikato for the upcoming Mitre 10 Cup campaign.

Guildford had spent his time this year playing club rugby in Hamilton for Fraser Tech, which finished runners-up in the premier competition, losing 22-13 in the final to Hautapu.

He told Stuff that numerous Heartland unions had been in touch about acquiring his services, but East Coast appealed to him due to their isolation from the rest of the country, with the side, which is currently enduring a record 42-match losing streak, playing out of the small North Island township of Ruatoria.

Zac Guildford in action for Waikato in 2017. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Guildford said he was initially reluctant to move south-east when asked by East Coast loose forward Jack Richardson to play for the country’s only iwi-based outfit, but he was eventually swayed to give it a try.

“When he first asked me, I was like ‘hell no’. I wanted to rest and get away from rugby,” Guildford told Stuff on Tuesday.

“But the more I got talking to a few people involved, I got pretty intrigued by trying to help them out. I am keen to give back to rugby if I am to keep playing. I won’t create miracles but if I can help in some way, then that would be awesome.

“I really don’t like losing and a five-year losing streak is obviously a tough one. I will go there and try my best and do what I can to try and get a couple of victories.”

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It won’t be Guildford’s first dabble in the Heartland Championship, as he played for Wairarapa Bush in 2016 following a failed stint with the Waratahs in Super Rugby earlier that year.

Prior to that, he had amassed 77 caps for Hawke’s Bay in the Mitre 10 Cup, 79 combined appearances for the Hurricanes and Crusaders in Super Rugby, 21 outings for Clermont in the Top 14, and 11 tests for the All Blacks from between 2009 and 2011.

However, a raft of off-field issues, namely his infamous naked drunken assault on bar-goers in Rarotonga eight years ago, have restricted opportunities at the elite level of the game.

Nevertheless, after stints with Waikato and French club Nevers following his foray with Wairarapa Bush, Guildford’s signing with East Coast, which will pay him nothing as a Heartland player, presents an opportunity to give back to the rugby community.

Zac Guildford with Wairarapa Bush in 2016. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Logistically, it won’t be easy, as Guildford is still based in Hamilton, where he works as a teacher aide at St Paul’s Collegiate School, so will join a raft of teammates who will travel far and wide just to play and train with the side.

“While it’s not ideal, I get to stay around here in Hamilton with my family. Really, it’s the best of both worlds. Rugby has always been a release from work and the reality of life.”

Guildford will become just the third All Black to play for the East Coast, with legendary fullback George Nepia and Andrew Jefferd playing internationally between 1924-30, and 1980-81, respectively.

East Coast kick-off their 2019 Heartland Championship campaign against Buller at Victoria Square in Westport on August 24.

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Former All Black Zac Guildford joins provincial minnows in Heartland Championship