Clyde Rathbone on ball for fairytale return

CHRIS DUTTON
Last updated 12:06 08/02/2013
Clyde Rathbone
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ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL: Former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone is the "fittest he's ever been" and back training, hoping to gain a place in the Brumbies squad for 2013.

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The Clyde Rathbone fairytale is on the verge of becoming a reality with the returning Wallabies winger getting a perfect chance to audition for his Super Rugby comeback on Friday.

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.

Brumbies coach Jake 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 downward spiral 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 returning to the field led him to sign a one-year deal.

The 31-year-old is in peak physical condition and confident he can recapture the power that allowed him to 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.''

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