Rathbone to prove a point

14 February 2013 - 02:20 By Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

It is probably not the week to say it, but this year's rugby season promises to be better than last year's dreary effort despite not even having started.

The air is still thick with nostalgia and a tinge of regret in local rugby circles following the retirements of Springbok flanker Juan Smith and referee Jonathan Kaplan.

Yet one can't help but feel like this season has more going for it than 2012, a year in which it took dreary old England beating the All Blacks to breathe life into proceedings.

The Kings are finally playing Super rugby; the Springbok Sevens side looks the business again and has a scary prospect in Seabelo Senatla; and from a personal perspective the Bulls seem like they're going to have a say in deciding the winners and losers.

But the piece of rugby news which will make my year is Clyde Rathbone's return to rugby with the Brumbies.

The former Springbok under-21 captain and Wallabies winger could be in line to make a logic-defying return to the game after spending the last three years retired from the game due to knee injuries.

During that time, he suffered from a bout of debilitating depression which nearly cost him his marriage, something he wrote about in a lengthy blog last year.

Now word from Canberra is that "Rattlebones" appeared to be the explosive powerhouse of old in scoring three times in the Brumbies' two Super 15 warm-up games and could play against the Reds this weekend.

I know it's not fashionable to cheer for Saffers who have taken the Aussie passport, but for me this is a heartwarming story in a year in which sport has been a little short of feel-good stories (think widespread doping and match-fixing).

Rugby has always banged on about its camaraderie and Rathbone's comeback from the brink is tangible proof that it exists.

At the head of that queue was the surprising figure of Brumbies coach Jake White.

I say surprising because South Africans insist on watering down his World Cup achievements and derisively calling him Jake the Snake.

While he can be an acquired taste as a human being, we tend to forget that he is a great coach and a rugby man through and through.

His attempts to rope Rathbone in - which were initially rebuffed and then accepted - upon learning about his difficulties is proof about how he has always genuinely cared about his players (think Ashwin Willemse).

Given their history (Rathbone was White's captain when the Baby Boks won the 2002 Under-21 World Cup) it was an easy enough decision to make. But White still went out on a limb.

But Rathbone deserves all the credit for the bravery it has taken for him to be on the threshold of his second rugby career at 31.

When he wrote his blog, he started it with the borrowed words "Sometimes we have to take risks, be terrified and do it anyway". That he has certainly done.

Looking at his previous career, what we mistook for him burning a path of success from Durban to Canberra was actually an elaborate exercise in proving someone from his childhood wrong.

However long his return lasts - here we need to take heed of Juan Smith's tragic demise this week - it will be a period in which the intense Rathbone plays his rugby with something approaching a song in his heart because he will be doing it to prove himself right.

On a lighter note, our ranks as normal folks must be seriously dreary if Rathbone took one look at life after rugby and lapsed into a dark depression.