Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

28th January 2013 05:15

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Zac Guildford talking with Steve Hansen

Support him: Zac Guildford

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with global expansion, internal tensions and our hopes for Zac Guildford...

As the road to England 2015 begins in earnest: the draw now made, coaches looking a lot more critically at their fringe players, tournaments a barometer for RWC form rather than for squad trialling, it's worth noting that it is going to be a different and expanded rugby world that heads for England's green and pleasant land in 31 months' time.

We have Argentina finally getting a chance to mix it with the best annually, something long overdue. Samoa's union looks to be able to swing a lot more clout financially than it did before and so use their best players on a regular basis. Pacific Island teams generally are looking more like complete and skilled teams than the free-running, non-scrumming mavericks we used to occasionally see in yesteryear.

And now, if the initiative pays off, perhaps you will be able to add the USA and Canada to that list of developed newbies.

The IRB's announcement of the accession of the Canucks and Eagles to the Pacific Nations Cup was not unexpected, but it's been quick in coming since conception and it's going to give both new teams, not to mention Eddie Jones' Japan, Fiji and Tonga some superb like-for-like competition to play in regularly. It can only be good.

USA Rugby is particularly getting its house in order. A domestic overhaul has flattened down the competition structure (the previous competition was a nationwide waste of money), while the coaching hierarchy - led by a local for the first time in several years in Mike Tolkin - is becoming more and more adroit at both picking out new potential talents (google Carlin Isles if you doubt us) and making sure they are set up in a professional side overseas where possible. There are still foibles over clubs allowing players to be available, but the elite squad is now a well-drilled collection of unified athletes. 'Twas not always thus.

Canada have been the better of the two down the years, although the gap has narrowed. There are also plenty of their players sprinkled among the European professional ranks, but there does not seem to have been such a focus on digging out new potential as there has been south of the border. But they are a strong and talented team with the current squad having been together for a long time.

Neither has really had, beyond a few tour guest appearances, a proper competition to use as bait for their best players to come back and play in. It has definitely unsettled the progress. But the Pacific Nations Cup will be all the richer for their presence now, as, hopefully, with these two teams be for having played in it. On the back of a good showing, what price their perhaps pulling a Tonga at England 2015?


Interesting times at Toulouse. Guy Novès will remain where he is until the day he shuffles off his mortal coil, while the concept of continuing to develop from within - Novès' assistants this year are both retirees from the past couple of seasons - has provided the team with continuity from the sidelines as well as on the pitch.

Toulouse's exit from the Heineken Cup appears to have woken up the passion in forwards coach William Servat, who declared on Thursday he was prepared to come out of retirement to help the team 'defend its title of champions of France.'

Most are sceptical, and with good reason: former players out of retirement rarely work out for the best, and neither do player-coaches.

Toulouse's pack has been hit by injuries on top of the usual series of international call-ups, but the grand old club has never been shy of chucking a few Euros to bring in a world-class 'medical joker', so for Servat to make this unusual step is a real eye-opener. Sideline frustration? We'll see, but Toulouse do look to be shaken at the moment.


Finally, a word of encouragement for Zac Guildford. An ugly struggle within his life has seemingly taken a turn for the even more serious, with his rugby career now on hold as he bids finally to conquer the demon drink.

Guildford's ride has not been the smoothest. He's had to cope with the loss of an influential father in some desperately unfortunate circumstances, and then fought the attention which comes with being one of a rugby-mad country's brightest prospects.

Being a professional rugby player takes an extraordinary amount of discipline. The abstinences, training regimes, responsibilities, amounts of money placed in the hands of young men... it's a pressure few of us could understand properly. Guildford, accelerated into the limelight as a teenager and suddenly without his father for guidance, simply seems not to have been able to take it, to have never have been at ease enough with himself to find a better way through the boredom than drinking well beyond his limits.

We hope he can this time. At 23 - or 24 as he could be when he resumes playing - he still has time on his side. He is not the only or first player to discover an issue with drink, nor would he be the first to seek counselling. If he comes back to the game, he won't be the first to do that, nor would he be the first to lose this particular fight.

There's nothing to offer to him now other than to encourage him and support him going forward. Whatever he's done, he's done... but there are a lot of youtube clips bearing testament to an excellent rugby player; a lot more of those than there are newspaper clippings sensationalising a misguided youngster getting into trouble. Hopefully we get the former of those two back soon enough.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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