RATHBONE: Why I left South Africa for a new life in Australia
June 6, 2005. Clyde Rathbone during Wallabies training in Coffs Harbour. AAP Image/Bruce Thomas
David Pocock’s decision to relocate to Canberra would no doubt have been difficult. As one of the world’s premier players, the Force would have pulled out all stops to retain his services.
But I suspect he’s made a wise decision to call Canberra home for the next three years.
And I believe he has made the move for the right reasons.
As a family man, he wants to be closer to loved ones, and as a professional, he wants to be part of a challenging environment that will maximize his potential.
Nobody has grounds to question his character or loyalty on the basis of those motivations above.
I know what it’s like to make life-changing decisions in the context of a rugby career.
A recent trend following my columns for The Roar has been comments regarding my decision to relocate to Australia back in 2002.
Rather than address each comment or question individually, I will relate for all readers my experience during the decision making process ten years ago.
I’ve no doubt that this will generate some questions from Roar readers and I will attempt to answer some of these as time allows.
My father’s side of the family has a long history in Australia: my grandmother was born in Australia in 1928 and my father qualified for ancestral Australian citizenship sometime during the 1980s.
I’ve always considered myself incredibly fortunate to have fantastically interesting and hardworking parents. Throw my three younger brothers into the mix, and there was never a dull moment growing up.
From a very young age, I remember my folks stating: “this is the year we’re going to live in Australia”. Though it always seemed that “this year” was a rather vague timeframe.
Instead of immigrating, my father poured his energy into ever more obscure business ideas. My mother had her hands full containing dad’s plans for world domination and keeping my three younger brothers and I in check.
Despite driving a car that shed kilograms of rust every time a door was shut and having to scramble to make ends meet, my parents insisted on yearly promises to take my brothers and I to Disneyland.
Over time, we came to view the Australian move with much the same suspicion as the Disney promises.
And so it was that I got on with being a rugby-obsessed kid who moved through the ranks focused on the dream of playing for the Springboks.
And then life took a different turn and relocating to Australia become a very real option.
Firstly, my manager, Jason Smith, learnt of my Australian eligibility and cut a tape of my highlights (most of which were shot by my dad’s handheld camera, which appeared at all my matches) and sent it to Australia.
The tape found its way to the ARU and there was interest from the Brumbies and Waratahs.
Still, I never seriously considered leaving South Africa and moved on with making my debut for the Sharks. Then, as captain, I worked with Jake White preparing for the 2002 Under 21 World Cup in South Africa.
Ironically, the final of the U21 World Cup was between South Africa and Australia.
After the final, I met briefly with Anthony Eddy. Anthony was the Brumbies assistant coach at the time and coached the Junior Wallabies during the tournament in South Africa.
He mentioned that there was an opportunity for me to come to Australia and check out the Brumbies’ rugby program.
After the Junior World Cup, my girlfriend and I flew to Australia and met with some of the Brumbies players and staff. A lunch with Dan Vickerman and David Nucifora helped give me insight into the Brumbies culture.
I would be expected to have an opinion, to have a say in the development of my own game, and in team decisions.
As someone who never came from an elite rugby school or had exposure to high level coaching as a youngster, I had developed an extremely independent mindset with respect to my rugby career.
The Brumby environment suited me perfectly.
My girlfriend was also excited by the idea of an Australian adventure.
It’s fair to say that if she had not been so keen, the move would not have happened. In hindsight I owe her a lot for being so willing to step out of her comfort zone in South Africa.
Upon returning to South Africa, I was flown to the South African Rugby HQ in Cape Town for a meeting with the then Springbok coach and the president of the SARFU.
I was asked directly why a junior Springbok captain was interested in playing in Australia.
I listed a number of reasons, but when the conversation turned to the affirmative action quota system, the mood in the room quickly changed.
I said I had a moral problem with the quota system, that in my view, it was a form of racism to select or drop players on the basis of race.
At that point, the President of the SARFU got up and stormed out of the room. He returned minutes later, but in my mind, a turning point had been reached.
As a side note, I’m pleased that the quota system in Springbok rugby has been abandoned.
Anybody who’s watched Bryan Habana or JP Pietersen in recent years should feel confident that the quota system in Bok rugby is completely redundant. Expose young talent to good coaching and the talent that exists in South African’s black population will flourish.
In the end, I knew that my family were finally serious about a move to Australia and they were beginning to make arrangements to relocate.
I did not want to represent the Boks and be stuck in South Africa whilst my family resided in Australia. I also wanted to challenge myself in an environment that I believed would maximize my potential.
Over the next two weeks I vacillated between staying and going.
I would wake having decided to take the leap of faith and have an Australian adventure, but by nightfall I had reverted to a decision to remain in South Africa.
It was agonising.
I saw a clear path for my life in South Africa: I knew where I would live, train and play, and I wanted to break away from convention, to carve my own way, and to have some interesting stories to tell my grandkids.
The decision finally boiled down to opportunity and family versus representing the Springboks.
In the end, I chose family and opportunity. When I read that David Pocock’s decision was largely down to prioritising family and opportunity, I’m left in no doubt that he will never be left second-guessing his decision.
Moving away from one’s country of birth can be incredibly difficult, but it also broadens horizons and forces the type of personal growth that remaining in a comfort zone can never enable.
South Africa will always be close to my heart.
I’ve travelled there every year since I left back in 2002 and I encourage others to visit the country and explore its unique beauty and culture.
It is a fascinating county with incredible potential, and yet it faces truly daunting challenges. Chronic violent crime, political corruption, health and educational obstacles must be overcome for the country to successfully move into the future.
I believe that it can and I hope that it will.
I need to do more to play a role in contributing to the future of South Africa. I’ve neglected my moral imperative in that regard for too long.
After a home invasion in 2004 in which my mother was thrown 4 meters from our balcony, my family finally did relocate to Canberra.
I’ve remained in Canberra since retiring from rugby in 2009 and I run a corporate health business with my ex-wife.
Health Futures makes a significant difference in improving the health of tens of thousands of Australians and I’m extremely proud of what the business achieves on a daily basis.
I’m pleased to say that my brothers and parents are well settled in Australia and continue to go from strength to strength.
From time to time, it occurs to me that lacing up a rugby boot paved the way for a better life for my family and I, that rugby has allowed Australia to well and truly become home.
For that, I feel incredibly fortunate.
Former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone has returned to Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies, following an injury-forced retirement from all forms in 2009. He writes guest columns for The Roar, and will blog his journey back to professional rugby in 2013.
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