He’s fought a deep, dark battle with depression and now Clyde Rathbone has fought his way back into the ACT Brumbies starting line-up, making his fairytale return to Super Rugby complete.
- February 11, 2013 – 4:04PM
The former Wallabies flyer will run out on the wing for the Brumbies against the Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night and coach Jake White hopes it sparks a return to the club’s glory days.
It will also bring up Rathbone’s 50th cap for the Australian province.
A chronic knee injury forced him to retire in 2009, but a call from White last year prompted an improbable return to the team he won a championship with in 2004.
White knew Rathbone from when the pair teamed up as captain and coach of South Africa to win the 2002 under-21 World Cup.
Rathbone battled depression and weight issues in his time away from the game.
But he’s impressed in two trial games, scoring three tries.
He has gradually built up his game time and was confident he can play the full 80 minutes.
The 31-year-old was both nervous and excited about playing, but ‘‘more excited’’.
‘‘It’s a pretty big occasion, just in the context of the last couple of years,’’ he said.
‘‘This game has been on the radar for a while and has been a focus of mine to get back for this.
‘‘And in the context of our season it’s pretty important.
‘‘Personally it’s going to be a big occasion, but I think for us as a group leading into the rest of the year this is a massive game.’’
Rathbone has been flooded with messages of support since announcing his comeback and was grateful for the support.
He said his mental-health issues meant he rated the success of his comeback in terms of his enjoyment of the game – the usual measures of games played and tries scored were no longer relevant.
But the South African product still wanted to play every game.
‘‘Saturday’s important for a lot of reasons, but at the end of the day it’s just a game of rugby and that’s allowed me to train better and prepare better and not worry about games, and be excited and stimulated by them and not frantic or anxious about them,’’ Rathbone said.
‘‘Because whatever happens on Saturday, good or bad, I’m still going to make sure I enjoy Sunday, that’s what’s important.’’
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Rathbone, who’s had to overcome hamstring and ankle problems during the pre-season, but he’s forced his way into White’s thinking regardless.
The Brumbies camp has repeatedly said the 26-time Wallaby has come back fitter, faster and stronger than in his glory days.
And White was hoping Rathbone’s return for his landmark game, along with a mouth-watering clash against the Reds, will prompt a big crowd at Canberra Stadium.
‘‘I think [Rathbone’s] done enough to select himself … one thing I’m looking for is an old player coming back hopefully to old ways in Canberra where there’s 20,000 supporters,’’ White said.
‘‘In a lot of ways we’re really getting the hype up and hoping that we can challenge the supporters in Canberra and see if we can get back to those old days.’’
White said Rathbone was a ‘‘winner’’ and brought that mentality with him.
It was one of the reason’s he made the call to Rathbone last February to tempt him out of retirement.
‘‘The fairytale story that he’s had to endure of retiring and depression, and it wasn’t done on a sentimental issue at all, it’s done on talent,’’ he said.
‘‘I think that he’s a winner … he won a junior world cup as the captain of the junior side I coached, and I think again that he is a winner.
‘‘And I’m hoping that sort of influence, both off the field and on the field, is going to be something that’s needed this year in terms of taking our team to be winners.’’
Rathbone has locked in one spot against the Reds, leaving Joe Tomane and Henry Speight to fight it out for the other.