Rathbone: Made for Hollywood

Thu, 14 Feb 2013 20:50
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Everyone loves a good comeback. And this one has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Everyone loves a good comeback. And this one has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.

In sporting parlance, when Clyde Rathbone make his 50th appearance in a Brumbies jersey three years after announcing his retirement from the game, it will be akin to the Miracle at Medinah (Europe's Amazing 2012 Ryder Cup comeback) or the Rumble in the Jungle (Muhammad Ali reclaiming the world heavyweight boxing title by knocking out the undefeated George Foreman in 1974).

Maybe the 31-year-old Rathbone is not the main feature at the Canberra Stadium on Saturday - that honour belongs to the Brumbies and Reds Super Rugby teams.

But Rathbone will write his own chapter in a very remarkable piece of history in the game.

Jake White, who named the 26-times capped Wallaby on the Brumbies' left wing for the season opener, spoke of the remarkable nature of Rathbone's return after his career was nearly prematurely ended by debilitating injuries.

All that is now squarely behind Rathbone, who scored three tries in two pre–season trial matches.

His double against an ACT XV last weekend took his fans back to a time when he first burst onto the Canberra scene almost a decade ago - a fresh-faced 22-year-old who had turned down the then Springbok coach Jake White's request to play for South Africa and opted instead to become a Wallaby.

It is the very same White who convinced Rathbone to return to the game.

White, speaking to this website in an exclusive interview from Canberra ahead of Saturday's game, said the veteran is now a better player than the one who first burst onto the Super Rugby scene in 2004.

The Brumbies mentor said Rathbone's comeback is one of the most remarkable stories in Rugby Union.

"If you look at his career - he captained the [South African] Under-21 side that won a [junior] World Cup, he then came to Australia and hit the international scene in a massive way," White told this website.

He said the player's appearance at the Canberra Stadium on Saturday must be put into perspective.

"It is a wonderful story for Rugby Union," White said, adding: "People always talk about camaraderie or the lessons you learn in rugby, they talk about great games or great tries.

"This will go down as a massive comeback.

"For a guy to be out of international and Super Rugby for three to four seasons and come back after all the things he endured. There were his injuries and then his depression.

"It speaks volumes for Rugby Union - the fact that the teammates have rallied around him and the Brumbies have offered him an opportunity to come back, another crack.

"That is what Rugby Union is about for me."

White, despite his long-standing relationship with Rathbone - he coached the SA Under-21 team that Rathbone captained to glory at the IRB Junior Championship in 2002 - said he is not giving the player a free ride back into the game.

"I am selecting him because he has been given an opportunity and he has put his hand up, grabbed it with both hands," he said.

"It is a special day for him and a special day for Brumbies rugby as well.

"The one thing they pride themselves here in Brumby land is that they look after each other and what better way to get him back in the system."

White said Rathbone has "lost nothing" from the days when captained the Baby Boks 11 years ago to his recent pre-season appearances.

"I look at what he was like as a junior, he is exactly the same," the Brumbies mentor said.

"He is quick, as big and dynamic.

"The fact that he has been carrying that injury has not resulted in him going backwards. In fact he has probably gone forward, because he understands  his body a lot better and understands what his strengths are.

"Not only is he the powerhouse in terms of how he used to play.

"He is more astute in terms of thinking about and understanding the game - what he needs to do and how he can do it."

Rathbone, who spent his childhood in Durban, representing SA Schools and then also captained the SA U21 team to victory at the IRB Junior World Championship.

In the same year he made his debut in Super Rugby for the Sharks.

However, at the end of 2002, he chose to move to Australia, for which he was qualified to play by virtue of having an Australia-born paternal grandmother.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Despite White's best efforts to lure him back to South Africa, Rathbone made his Test debut for Australia in June 2004 - a decision that made him public enemy number one among South African rugby fans.

He rubbed salt into the South African wounds by scoring a match-winning try against his former countrymen in Perth later that year.

In 2005 Rathbone was injured for most of the year, but made a a comeback in 2006 - before knee surgery for a torn patella tendon ruled him out for more than a year.

In 2008 he made a low-key comeback in the Sydney club scene, but by 2009 - after many injuries that have seen him sidelined - he decided to retire.

On August 23 last Rathbone announced his intention to return to professional rugby and Saturday will see him make his first appearance in a Super Rugby match in almost four years - his 50th appearance in a Brumbies jersey.

"I'm reasonably happy with how we've gone to this point, there are some things we can take into training this week from the trials we've played, and into the game with the Reds," Rathbone said on the Brumbies' website.

"To be fair these trial matches are probably a step down from what we'd expect in a Super Rugby game. It is enjoyable and exciting for me to be back involved with professional rugby, it's probably not something I thought would happen a couple of years ago but the coaching staff here have done a great job in getting me into shape and ready to play at this level."

Clyde Rathbone fast facts:
Nickname: Rath
Height/weight: 1.81m, 95kg
Date of birth: 23/7/1981, Durban South Africa
Position(s): Wing/centre
Juniors: Warner Beach, South Africa
School: Kingsway High, South Africa
Colts: Harlequins, South Africa
Senior club: Easts, ACT
Super Rugby debut: 2002 - for the Sharks v Crusaders
Brumbies debut: 2004 v Blues, Canberra
Super Rugby caps: 52 (three for the  Sharks); Points 75 (15 tries)
Representative career: 1999 SA Schools; 2002 SA Under 21; 2004-2006 Australian Wallabies:
Test debut: 2004 v Scotland, Melbourne
Tests: 26; Points 40 (eight tries)

By Jan de Koning

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