Guildford wary of writing off wounded underdogs
Hitting form … Crusader Zac Guildford. Photo: Getty Images
THE injury-hit Waratahs might be rank outsiders to topple last season's Super Rugby finalists in Sydney this weekend but Crusaders winger Zac Guildford says that makes them more dangerous.
Guildford has been named on the wing alongside All Blacks teammates Israel Dagg and Dan Carter in a backs combination widely tipped to stop the Waratahs shaky mid-season momentum.
But the 23-year-old said he would not take anything for granted before Sunday's round-10 clash.
''I've heard about the injuries but an understrength team is more of a danger for us and we can't take them lightly because we know the guys who've got their chance in the jersey will play with everything they've got,'' he said.
''The Waratahs are always a dangerous side and we won't expect anything less than that, even though they are a little bit depleted.''
Guildford could be speaking from experience. The Wairarapa-raised footballer is in the fight of his life for an All Blacks jersey and knows what it means to scrap for survival.
''I missed [the Crusaders'] first game but apart from that I've played every game since,'' he said of his season to date. ''I'm looking to build into the season and I've got a bit of form going now, so I'm just hoping to keep it going.''
A four-game suspension after a bender in the Cook Islands at the end of last year was the reason he missed his team's season opener against the Lions in Johannesburg.
The episode, which followed three ''please explain'' appearances in 18 months before top-level officials, triggered an ultimatum from the New Zealand Rugby Union.
Guildford pledged to stay alcohol-free for a year to save his Super Rugby career, but it appeared his stint in the All Blacks jersey had come to an end.
However, a recent meeting with new coach Steve Hansen and improving form for the Crusaders has signalled the winger might be down but is by no means out.
Guildford said the scrutiny during the Rugby World Cup was challenging to deal with but was well in the past now as the Crusaders focused on moving on from their near-trademark slow start to the Super Rugby season.
''It's a bit annoying really, we'd like to start well but we've sort of kept that history up again this season,'' he said of the squad's back-to-back early season losses.
''We had a talk the other week after we had a good win against the Stormers [in round eight]. It was the first one where we played rugby we could be really proud of and that showed us what we could do if we played as a team and were disciplined and played for 80 minutes. We have another opportunity to do that this Sunday.''
The Waratahs are taking their time naming the XV who will start against a Crusaders side that this week welcomed the playing return of dynamic breakaway Richie McCaw.
Backs Peter Betham and Atieli Pakalani were named in an un-numbered 22 yesterday, as well as reserve prop Jeremy Tilse, who will cover for Paddy Ryan's absence through injury.
Guildford said the Waratahs were known for their ball-carrying forwards and ''classy'' Test-capped backs.
But it is the partnership between halfback Brendan McKibbin and likely starting five-eighth Berrick Barnes that will be the focus of the Crusaders' strategy. ''If we can shut down their 9-10 combination that'll go a long way towards [a win],'' Guildford said.