When Clyde Rathbone first came out of retirement from the Brumbies, he looked more suited to lifting dumb-bells for a living than scoring tries. But Brumbies assistant coach Stephen Larkham says Rathbone's transformation from ''bodybuilder'' to athlete is well on track for the start of the Super Rugby season.
The Brumbies fitness staff was blown away by Rathbone's impressive physique when he fronted in August, despite having retired due to knee problems in 2009.
While most of the squad returned for pre-season training this week, the former Wallabies winger has spent the past two months trimming down to return to his explosive best.
He is on target to return to full training in early December, and will begin running next week.
''If you had a look at his body shape when he first came in August, he was a bodybuilder,'' Larkham said yesterday.
''He was big and strong and powerful, but you wouldn't say he was very fit. He's toned himself down and looks more like an athlete, more like a rugby player than when he first got here.
''Over the last couple of months he's certainly improved that, his repeat speed efforts are a lot better and it's great to see how he's coming along.''
Rathbone had a minor surgical cleanout of his ankle last week, and admitted his body is still readjusting to the workload of a professional athlete.
''I had a little cleanout with an arthroscope last week but it was pretty basic surgery, they took a few bits and pieces out and I'm walking already,'' Rathbone said.
''The nine weeks [of training] was pretty good - there was some frustrating little spots where my body reminded me it's 31, not 21 - but overall I came through in pretty good nick.
''What made me step away three years ago was I felt like I'd lost the points of differences I had like speed and power, and I've spent a lot of time the last couple of years trying to get those back.''
Rathbone has already noticed the increase in professionalism at the Brumbies under coach Jake White.
Having played under White at under-21 level for South Africa, Rathbone isn't the least surprised by the club's revival last year.
''Jake's really keen on the basics but also has a real eye for detail,'' he said. ''All those little 1 per centers add up and that's the big change I've seen in the program from when I was previously involved, the attention to detail and nothing's left to chance.''
An upbeat Rathbone cracked jokes with the media yesterday, worlds away from his crushing battle with depression.
He has beaten the illness and is so eager to return to rugby he knows the exact number of days until the Brumbies take the field.
Rediscovering his passion for rugby is clearly proving the best form of therapy.
''We've got 106 days until the first game, so there's enough time and it's my goal to be in the best nick and do as much training as possible,'' he said.
''I've got some work to do, some little niggles I need to get on top of, but I'll be in full training the first week of December.''
Rathbone laughed when asked about the Brumbies' healthy South African contingent, with props Ruan Smith, lock Etienne Oosthuizen, and coach White also hailing from the rainbow nation.
The two players the Brumbies yesterday announced to fill the final places on their Extended Player Squad - halfback Mark Swanepoel and outside back Stephan van der Walt - were also born there.
Swanepoel has spent two years in the Canterbury Crusaders system.
He joins the Brumbies as cover for injured halfback Nic White, who is racing the clock to be fit for round one after shoulder surgery in the off-season.
''We're slowly taking over, it's been Jake's master plan from day one and we'll all be speaking Afrikaans soon,'' Rathbone joked.
''It comes down to steak at the end of the day, most of what 'Oosti' [Oosthuizen] and Ruan are eating is dead animals, so far so good.''
■ THE Australian Rugby Union yesterday said Quade Cooper would face a Conduct Tribunal Hearing at 1pm today at ARU headquarters in St Leonards.
Cooper is required to appear before a three-person panel, which will be chaired by an independent legal practitioner and include an ARU- and QRU-nominated representative.
The ARU said it would issue a statement at the conclusion of the hearing.