Competition fierce for Brumbies wingers
The Brumbies' Joe Tomane with new fans Max Gildea(6) and Conor Gildea (10) from Hughes. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Clyde Rathbone is ready to unleash his power running on the Queensland Reds in a remarkable Super Rugby comeback, says ACT Brumbies backs coach Stephen Larkham. But how much game time the former Wallabies flyer will get depends on this week's training as he battles a niggling ankle injury.
A chronic knee injury forced him to retire in 2009, but an eye-catching pre-season has thrown Rathbone into the mix to start on the wing at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
He played 40 minutes against the Western Force in Darwin and then 70 against the ACT XV on Friday night.
Clyde Rathbone throws a pass at Brumbies training. Photo: Colleen Petch COP
Whether he can make it through a full 80 minutes against the Reds remains to be seen.
With Henry Speight and Joe Tomane in the mix for the two wing spots, there's plenty of cover if Rathbone can't last the whole game.
Larkham said it would be a tough week at the selection table for Brumbies coach Jake White and his assistants.
The Brumbies are spoilt for choice in the back line, with who plays on the wing not the only dilemma.
Who gets the nod at fullback between Jesse Mogg and Robbie Coleman is another hard decision.
Larkham thought it would be a horses-for-courses approach this season, with the opponent and team tactics deciding who gets the nod on a weekly basis.
''He's ready, he's ready to play. Is he ready for 80 minutes? That's the question we'll have to find the answer to in the next couple of weeks,'' Larkham told The Canberra Times at the Brumbies' fan day at Griffith on Sunday.
''But there's good competition on the wing at the moment, so we've got a decision to make over the next couple of days as to who's going to fill that position best
''I guess they all offer something slightly different, so we're just going to find out what's going to suit this game for us.
''I guess that will be the same for the season. With so many quality players now in the back line, we really do have to pick and choose our battles. It's Henry, it's Joey, it's Rath in the mix at the moment [for the wings], and the others are closely fighting behind that.''
Speight sparkled last year, scoring eight tries - more than any other player from an Australian province.
However, he still has to fight for a spot in the team with Rathbone and Tomane.
The 24-year-old Fijian says competition for spots is healthy, but he doesn't want to miss any games because of rotation.
''I like to get as many games as I can. If I can get all the games, I'll be happy,'' Speight said.
''It's probably what's best for the team and what's the best team to go for that week.
''But still, the ultimate goal is to try and play every week.
''My job is to just take one game at a time and make sure every game is better than the week before.
''Hopefully I'll be part of the team week in, week out.''
Speight remembers sitting at home in Fiji as a kid watching Rathbone play before he retired, when the former Wallaby earned 26 international caps and 52 Super Rugby ones.
Now Speight is relishing the chance to work with the South African product.
‘‘He’s looking really good. It’s good to have him around, for me personally I love having him around,’’ Speight said.
‘‘He’s got that experience, he’s got that calmness about him.
‘‘I only watched him before when I was still in Fiji and he played for the Wallabies.
‘‘He’s really worked hard in the last few months to get where he’s at and I really admire him to be away for three years and come back in the shape he is.
‘‘...He’s raring to get on that field now, as you could probably tell by his performance on Friday [in the trial].’’
Meanwhile, centre Pat McCabe will undergo scans on his neck, which he fractured on the Wallabies’ European tour last year.
If it comes up clear, he’s expected to be available for the NSW Waratahs or Natal Sharks.
‘‘It’s a scan tomorrow as to whether we can start him back to modified contact training and then it’s just a progression from there into the game,’’ Brumbies assistant coach Stephen Larkham said.
‘‘If everything comes up well with the scan then he’s on track for the third or fourth week of the competition.’’
Super Rugby round one: ACT Brumbies v Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm. Tickets available through Ticketek. TV time: Live on Fox Sports 2.