Thursday, October 22, 2009
As predicted by many, Hawkes Bay flyer Zac Guildford has been selected for the All Blacks for their end of year tour of Japan and Europe.
Guildford, who's just 20, came to prominence in the Junior World Championship, scoring two tries in their 44-28 win over England in the final. The occasion was marred by tragedy though, as Guildford's father, Rob, suffered a heart attack in the stands.
His selection for the All Blacks this week has been reward for his stellar performances in the past few seasons, but he's experiencing mixed emotions as it's so soon after the passing of his biggest fan.
"It's a pretty emotional time because this is the one thing I really wanted to achieve for my dad," Guildford said after learning he had made the All Blacks squad. "Since his passing I've been a lot hungrier and just wanting to do all the right things. He knew it was my dream and I promised him over in Tokyo that I would make the All Blacks," he said.
Few are surprised by Guildfords call up for the tour of Australia, Wales, Italy, England, France, and the Barbarians. He is the Air New Zealand Cup's leading try scorer with 13 and has played a huge part in the Magpies' successful season so far.
New Zealand coach Graeme Henry has likened him to the great John Kirwan.
"What's impressed me about Zac, apart from his ability to score, is he's got a great nose for a try," said Henry. "He reminds me of John Kirwan in many ways. He gets on the shoulders of players and gets that final pass to score. He sniffs out tries very well."
Talking about how his dad would feel when hearing the news of his selection:"Oh, he'd be over the moon. I know that it was his dream for me to make the All Blacks. He didn't do it himself, so I think he'd be really proud," Guildford says.
In a bizarre twist of fate, he could be making his debut in the same place that he won the JWC, but lost his father - Tokyo.
"It'd be a little bit emotional, going back to Japan ... but it's a dream to wear the black jersey for just about any kid in New Zealand, and for it to happen to me, you know, it'd just be a very special occasion," he said.
Guildford's mother is extremely proud of the young man and how he's dealt with it all.
"Rob always knew in his heart that one day Zachary would become an All Black," says Debbie Guildford.
"Zac's a very strong young man and I think it would be in some ways an honour - in memory of his father - to be able to run out there in the black jersey," she said.
New Zealand u20's beat England u20's to win the Junior World Championship
Ireland u20's challenge the Haka - Junior World Championship 2009