Tim Glover: The shadows of Clyde's crossover

Australia's new wonderman is ready to wow Twickenham, but South Africa won't applaud
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The Independent Online

Sir Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson turned a whiter shade of pale when England were overrun 51-15 by Australiain Brisbane last June. The England coaches had confidently expected to take the Wallabies, whom they regarded as non-vintage, and the shocking defeat contributed to Woodward's subsequent decision to resign.

Sir Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson turned a whiter shade of pale when England were overrun 51-15 by Australiain Brisbane last June. The England coaches had confidently expected to take the Wallabies, whom they regarded as non-vintage, and the shocking defeat contributed to Woodward's subsequent decision to resign.

There were many things England did not bargain for that day, and one was Clyde Rathbone. Wendell Sailor strained a hamstring in the warm-up and Rathbone the understudy stole the show, his hat-trick helping to inflict upon England their third heaviest defeat in 133 years.

Once again England have a score to settle when Australia visit Twickenham next Saturday, but this time they will have Rathbone's card marked. The player described as "the new Tim Horan'' has not only overtaken Sailor but is expected to return to Twickenham on 4 December to make his debut for the Barbarians against New Zealand.

If England were not amused by "Clyde who?", in South Africa they were spitting feathers. Rathbone had been the captain of the successful South Africa Under-21 side when they were coached by Jake White who, of course, went on to become head coach of the Springboks. Rathbone switched his allegiance to the ACT Brumbies in Canberra and was able to swap the green and gold of South Africa for the gold of Australia.

Rathbone's father is a jeweller in Durban, a city where the insurance premiums against crime are almost as high as in Johannesburg. After visiting Australia in 2002 Rathbone decided to sign a three-year contract with the Australian Rugby Union, not only because he could team up with Stirling Mortlock, Matt Giteau, Stephen Larkham and George Gregan, but because of what he described as a better lifestyle.

He had time to experience the delights of Canberra when a series of groin injuries prevented him from playing any part in the Brumbies' 2003 Super-12 season. However, when he regained full fitness and turned 23, the Aussies knew they had pilfered a 22-carat gem. "Clyde's a serious young footballer who has made an important decision about his life, not just his rugby,'' said Eddie Jones, the Wallabies coach, who has signed up to the next World Cup in 2007 and will have Rathbone with him. "He's the sort of character who can handle difficult situations.''

After his extraordinary performance against England, Rathbone played against the Pacific Islanders and was twice knocked senseless in a particularly physical encounter in Adelaide. In the build- up to the Tri-Nations, South African newspapers, launching an anti-Rathbone campaign, exploited images of his most uncomfortable moments against the Islanders, a move which he described as "narrow-minded and immature''.

Rathbone had the first laugh when he scored the winning try in Australia's 30-26 victory over South Africa in Perth, but the Springboks had the last when they defeated the Wallabies 23-19 in the Tri-Nations decider in Durban. "Traitor" was one of the nicer comments made about Rathbone on his return to his home city.

Tiaan Strauss, a former captain of South Africa who became a member of Australia's World Cup-winning squad in 1999, commented: "If you say negative things about South Africa, South Africa will have a negative impression of you. Clyde has got to be politically correct. He'll die a South African, he can't change that.''

The recent conversion not just of Rathbone but his fellow South African Dan Vickerman and the Fijian Radike Samo again highlights the eligibility scandal in Test rugby. South Africa has its own problems in being obliged to select a quota of black players, a move resulting in a sharp political divide in the Republic, where the critics say the racial mix in the squad is not justified by form. As it is, only two or three of the black players in the tour party make it into the Test team, which the government say is unsatisfactory. White said: "If you look at the sides I've selected, at all age levels, I have never had worries about race. There are some who may not get a start on this trip but no one is travelling as a passenger.''

The situation is very different for New Zealand and Australia, who recruit players who should be playing for the Pacific Islands. The All Blacks current Test line-up is dominated by names from Samoa and Fiji.

One of the biggest problems facing the game is the imbalance between the top nations and the rest. Since its inception in 1987 the World Cup has been won by four countries, making it less a global showpiece, more a VIP members club. Belatedly the International Rugby Board are beginning to tackle the issue. A meeting in Dublin last week was described by Syd Millar, the IRB chairman, as the most important since they threw the game open in 1995.

A new strategic plan was approved, a key feature of which is a £30 million invest- ment over the next three years for a "dev-elopment initiative to drive the growth of rugby''. If it means countries like Samoa will not have to take on the superpowers with one hand tied behind their backs then it will be money well spent.

The IRB have recognised the need for change, basically becoming, nine years after the revolution, professional. "This is not change for change's sake,'' Millar said. "The IRB will be more accountable and the executive committee will be charged with swifter decision-making. It's the beginning of the future development of the game.''

Bob Tuckey, the vice-chairman, said: "A common message was prevalent, that the IRB needed to review the way in which it conducts its business to ensure that it remains relevant to the changing needs.'' Sooner or later Tuckey will become the head of the IRB, signifying another important change - he will be the first representative from the southern hemisphere to captain the world game.

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