Rathbone's fairytale a step closer to reality
Clyde Rathbone's comeback kicks up another gear on Friday night. Photo: Getty Images
The Clyde Rathbone fairytale is on the verge of becoming reality as the returning Wallabies winger gets a perfect chance to audition for his Super Rugby comeback in Friday night's trial match.
And while Jake White is giving Rathbone an opportunity to impress in the final pre-season warm-up, the coach also revealed his interest in helping Luke Burgess resurrect his Australian rugby career by joining the ACT Brumbies.
Three years after he retired, Rathbone will edge a step closer to a remarkable comeback when he lines up against the ACT XV at Viking Park.
White has named his strongest line-up with Rathbone starting on the wing and Henry Speight - who attended a family funeral this week - being moved to the bench.
Injuries forced Rathbone into premature retirement in 2009. Hanging up the boots triggered a fall into depression and off-field struggles. He opened up about his battle with mental demons a year ago and White first approached Rathbone in January last year about making a comeback.
Despite making a stunning physical transformation, Rathbone declined at first.
But the challenge of getting back on the field led him to sign a one-year deal and the 31-year-old is on the cusp of a dream return.
He is in peak physical condition and confident he can recapture the blockbusting power which had him play 26 Tests for Australia.
Speight, Joseph Tomane and Rathbone are fighting for the two wing spots for the opening round against the Queensland Reds on February 16 and the door is ajar for Rathbone to complete his journey.
''I think [Rathbone] needs as much rugby time as he can get,'' White said. ''He's been out of the game for a while and the more time he spends on the field he will sharpen up his skills and he'll also get some confidence out of his body lasting.
''[Rathbone] is in the mix … it's wonderful for Clyde, a lot of people didn't expect him to be where he is now in terms of knocking on the door for selection in the starting line-up.
''But he's really experienced, the way he talks and communicates and gives confidence to others is something that doesn't go unnoticed.''
Star recruit David Pocock will play his first game in Canberra as a Brumby and White is expected to give his full-strength team up to 60 minutes on the field to gain momentum for the start of the season.
A year of Super Rugby experience has improved the Brumbies' depth as they seek to make the finals for the first time since 2004.
But White also has an eye on the future and has spoken with former Wallabies scrumhalf Burgess' manager about the possibility of him moving to Canberra next season. The Brumbies have three No.9s on their roster - Nic White, Ian Prior and Mark Swanepoel - but all three are off contract at the end of the season.
Burgess started his career with the Brumbies in 2005 before joining the NSW Waratahs.
The 28-year-old joined French club Toulouse after the World Cup in 2011, but is ready to return to Australia and White has expressed interest.
Nic White was on the cusp of Wallabies selection last year as Will Genia's back-up No.9 and Jake White has already had been in negotiations about extending the 22-year-old's contract.
But the potential addition of Burgess, who was in the Brumbies Academy for three years, would add depth and fierce competition at the scrumbase.
''As we speak we're negotiating who is going to be our [scrumhalf in 2014 and beyond], that's why a guy like Luke Burgess' name pops up,'' White said.
''To get a guy like Burgess to even mention he would be interested in coming back to the Brumbies is fantastic for our club because it sends the right message about our rugby program.
''We would never chase him away, he's played for the Brumbies, he's got 37 Test caps, 80 Super Rugby games and that sort of player is wonderful as part our squad.
''We'd love to engage with him about whether he's available, but at the same time we've got Nic, Ian and Mark Swanepoel.
''At the end of the day it's about finding the best players, making our squad better every year.
''I'm very excited about the fact he's thinking about coming back to Australia and that he's even considering coming to the Brumbies.''
ACT BRUMBIES v ACT XV
Friday at Viking Park, 7pm. Entry is free.
Brumbies: 1. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Dan Palmer, 4. Sam Carter, 5. Scott Fardy, 6. Peter Kimlin, 7. David Pocock, 8. Ben Mowen, 9. Nic White, 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Clyde Rathbone, 12. Christian Lealiifano, 13. Andrew Smith, 14. Joseph Tomane, 15. Jesse Mogg. Reserves: Siliva Siliva, Ruaidhri Murphy, Leon Power, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Tevita Kuridrani, Zack Holmes, Etienne Oosthuizen, Ruan Smith, Fotu Auelua, Scott Sio, Jordan Rapana, Henry Speight, Robbie Coleman.
ACT XV: 1. Sione Taula (JP Pradaud), 2. Robbie Abel (Nick Dobson), 3. Les Makin (Ray Dobson), 4 Gareth Clouston (Rikki Waitao), 5. Tom Staniforth, 6. Jordan Smiler (Tim Donnellan), 7. Josh Hitchins (Michael Smith), 8. Tim Cree (Xavier Duffy), 9. Mark Swanepoel (Beau Mokotupu), 10. Sam Windsor (Gus McKercher), 11. Tom Cox (Tom Ruediger), 12. Rod Iona, 13. Matt Hawke (Mitch Connolly), 14. Stefan Van Der Walt (Andrew Barrell), 15. Brendan Tueaki (Ben Johnson).