RATH: “Who’s the best player you played with?”

Clyde Rathbone Columnist

By Clyde Rathbone, Clyde Rathbone is a Roar Expert

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    Pat McCabe in action for the Brumbies. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

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    I imagine it’s the type of question ex athletes get asked a lot. I’m not sure why it seems to come up so often but I suspect it’s related to the tendency we have to admire rare qualities in others.

    I have been fortunate to play with some truly great rugby players. Names such as Larkham, Roff, Smith and Gregan, all of whom are rightly considered once in a generation marvels.

    If I had to choose the most talented teammate I played with I’d have to single out George Smith.

    George combined a freakish ability over the ball with some wonderfully subtle touches of skill and breakdown guile. Somehow, despite the physicality he brought to everything in his game, he was almost never injured.

    Joe Roff’s ability to turn a match with a moment of sheer magic was jaw-dropping. Roffy made it all look easy, and when he brought his A-game (which was almost always) I think it really was nearly effortless for Joe. I consider it a real privilege to have had a front row seat to the Joe Roff show.

    Stephen Larkham and George Gregan really should be appraised as a package deal. Together they ran operation Brumby. Bernie gets a lot of credit as a brilliant tactician and a player with the un-coachable ability to consistently make intelligent decisions. And while all those qualities are true, his toughness really stood out for me as a defining quality. Steve doesn’t know how to give anything less than a hundred per cent.

    George taught me a lot about professionalism. Greegs was ridiculously thorough in his preparation, he left nothing to chance and it showed in the consistency of his performances.

    The other thing that struck me about George was that his whole was far greater than his parts. He wasn’t the best at any single thing. He was never the fastest, strongest or most skilful player – but he was always in the top two or three players in every area that mattered. Add his leadership into the mix and it isn’t hard to correlate the Brumbies success with George’s presence in the team.

    There are many other players I could add to a list of those teammates that most impressed me, and I’m aware that ultimately these types of reviews really are subjective. So while It’s usually against my nature to single out another primate for praise, I do want to make mention of one person who I admire greatly.

    Pat McCabe.

    Patty’s arrival at the Brumbies was memorable, but for entirely opposite reasons than one might expect of a future Wallaby. I remember him as a skinny kid who wasn’t really anything to write home about. He was not especially athletic or skilful. He was extremely softly spoken and seemed completely out of his depth in professional rugby.

    I remember thinking that the depth of Australian rugby talent must be dreadful if “this guy” was getting a go.

    But Pat had different ideas about his ability. He applied himself with complete dedication to every possible area of potential improvement. And slowly but surely everything in his game got better.

    The real tragedy of his retirement is that I really feel he was just hitting his straps. The pre-season he had leading into 2014 had to be seen to be believed. He was on fire every session. I felt like his game against the Hurricanes, where he was a metre eating machine, was a bellwether to a huge season from Pat. But it wasn’t to be. He broke his neck, three times. Three times!

    I’m not especially prone to sentimentality, but when I heard the news that Patty had “done his neck again”, I cried like a baby. It just seemed so desperately unfair.

    While some of the more celebrated players in this country coiffed their hair and advertised their lives on social media, Pat went to work. In his totally unpretentious way he was all grit, determination and heart.

    Of course Patty will tell you he’s been extremely lucky. He got to the highest level doing something he loves, and he got there through ceaseless hard work.

    Perhaps there is a lesson in his story for all of us. That opportunities come and go, that life is an ever changing dance of unpredictability and mystery. And that our attitude towards whatever is true of our lives really does make all the difference in the end.

    Clyde Rathbone
    Clyde Rathbone

    Former Wallaby & Brumby Clyde Rathbone retired from rugby in 2014. Clyde is a writer, speaker and technology startup founder. A Roar columnist since 2012, you can follow Clyde via his Twitter page.

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    The Crowd Says (79)

    • May 19th 2015 @ 4:15am
      Johnno said | May 19th 2015 @ 4:15am | ! Report

      Jonah Lomu

      • May 19th 2015 @ 5:22am
        Billy Bob said | May 19th 2015 @ 5:22am | ! Report

        When did you and Jonah play, Johnno?

        • May 19th 2015 @ 8:12am
          BluesMan said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:12am | ! Report

          Probably Jonah Lomu Rugby on PlayStation.

        • May 19th 2015 @ 2:31pm
          Johnno said | May 19th 2015 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

          Back in the day bro

          • May 19th 2015 @ 10:49pm
            BluesMan said | May 19th 2015 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

            🙂 the good ol days aye

      • May 19th 2015 @ 3:34pm
        Jonah lomu said | May 19th 2015 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

        The best person I played with was johnno. He had legs like trees and found the try line often. He was an angry man

        • May 19th 2015 @ 10:52pm
          BluesMan said | May 19th 2015 @ 10:52pm | ! Report

          LOL I bet he never passed or tackled.

        • May 20th 2015 @ 2:53am
          Johnno said | May 20th 2015 @ 2:53am | ! Report

          lol I was better than you Jonah Lomu you know it bigger, stronger better, I was Jake the Muzz bro,rip in.

    • Roar Rookie

      May 19th 2015 @ 4:19am
      Voltaire said | May 19th 2015 @ 4:19am | ! Report

      Excellent read Clyde.

      McCabe certainly did not reveal the awful injuries that is so prevalent in many players. I believe the Latin term is “shoulderous chiperitis”.

    • May 19th 2015 @ 4:20am
      scrumpoacher said | May 19th 2015 @ 4:20am | ! Report

      Trigger-but you won’t know him…

    • May 19th 2015 @ 4:29am
      MH01 said | May 19th 2015 @ 4:29am | ! Report

      Great article Clyde ! Completely agree with the players you have singled out, and amongst these legends that made Canberrans proud , Pat McCabe was one of my favourites. I have to say thank you guys for all those cold evenings in Bruce stadium, some of the best years of my youth . You can add one more to that list, a stocky drastic South African called Clyde rathbone, fit right into one of the best super rugby teams in my time, and boy did he deliver!!! You are one of these legends mate!! take a bow Clyde !

      • May 19th 2015 @ 9:31am
        John Wagner said | May 19th 2015 @ 9:31am | ! Report

        Hear! Hear! MH01.

        Well do I remember Clyde’s barn-storming Test Match v the Springboks at Suncorp, when Wendell Sailor was injured in the warm-up and Clyde was thrust into the run-on team. And what a match he had! A top player on the field, and a true gentleman off the field!

        Thanks for the wonderful memories, Clyde, and now for your excellent articles. Please keep them coming.

    • Roar Guru

      May 19th 2015 @ 4:31am
      Harry Jones said | May 19th 2015 @ 4:31am | ! Report

      Best article you’ve written so far, Clyde.

      Carel du Plessis.

      • Roar Guru

        May 19th 2015 @ 1:24pm
        sheek said | May 19th 2015 @ 1:24pm | ! Report


        If you had to pick the best wingers for the Boks over the past 40 years, I’m guessing one of Mordt (specialist right), du Plessis (specialist left) & Habana (mostly left, sometimes right) would miss out.

        Who would get squeezed out here???

        • Roar Guru

          May 19th 2015 @ 1:47pm
          Harry Jones said | May 19th 2015 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          Gee, that’s a brutal Hunger Games! Sheek, that’s just cruel. 🙂

          I can’t say that I’ve seen a better, stronger, pacier (in traffic) wing than Ray Mordt, and he still looks like he could play loose forward, today!

          I’d probably put Habana on the left, then; deadly finisher and great all-around work rate (even has a go at the pilfer).

          The Prince of Wings, the best I ever saw on the same field as me, misses out….

          • Roar Guru

            May 19th 2015 @ 2:00pm
            Harry Jones said | May 19th 2015 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

            But the most effective rugby player I ever played with was a boy aged 12 or so. He played with us 9 year olds. Because he failed academics three times. Untackleable.

          • Roar Guru

            May 19th 2015 @ 5:44pm
            sheek said | May 19th 2015 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

            Thanks Harry,

            i think you have done the sensible thing.

            Habana’s 106 (no) tests to du Plessis’ 12 is difficult to argue, although number of tests is not a defining criteria by itself.

            Just for you, my best Boks XV since 1970:

            15-Andre Joubert, 14-Ray Mordt, 13-Danie Gerber, 12-Jean de Villiers(vc), 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Naas Botha, 9-Joost VDW, 8-Morne du Plessis(c), 7-Jan Ellis, 6-Piet Greyling, 5-Victor Matfield, 4-Frik du Preez, 3-Hannes Marais, 2-Bismark du Plessis, 1-Os du Randt.

            Bench: 23-Percy Montgomery, 22-Carel du Plessis or Errol Tobias, 21-Fourie de Preez, 20-Gary Teichmann, 19-Mark Andrews, 18-Bali Swart, 17-John Smit, 16-Beast Mtawarira.

            Fullback is really tough. I put Percy on the bench for his versatility, but HO de Villiers & Johan Heunis might be better as pure fullbacks. No place either for Andre venter on the flanks. Or Uli Schmidt at hooker.

            Frik & Marais are almost form another era, but I saw enough of them in 1971 & 1970 (both) & 74 (Marais) on TV highlights.

            So much depth, historically, to Boks rugby.

            • Roar Guru

              May 19th 2015 @ 6:16pm
              Nick Turnbull said | May 19th 2015 @ 6:16pm | ! Report

              Gerber is my front runner for best #13 of all time with strong consideration given to O’Driscoll, Sella, Stanley, Herbert, Little, Smith and I’m informed Bert Cooke went pretty well in his day. Have I missed anyone?

              • Roar Guru

                May 19th 2015 @ 9:08pm
                Harry Jones said | May 19th 2015 @ 9:08pm | ! Report


                Gerber = peerless in his era

              • Roar Guru

                May 19th 2015 @ 10:54pm
                sheek said | May 19th 2015 @ 10:54pm | ! Report


                Bert Cooke apparently slid past Cyril Towers a few times back in the late 20s. But I guess it depends on the circumstances at the time. Towers might have been facing a two on one. Anyway, Towers was supposed to be one of our best.

            • Roar Guru

              May 19th 2015 @ 9:07pm
              Harry Jones said | May 19th 2015 @ 9:07pm | ! Report


              That’s a well-balanced team. You didn’t just go for a “team of stars,” you picked interesting combos.

              The bench is deadly! Those reserves would be a nightmare to preserve a lead against. I like that bench!

              The starting pack you’ve picked is interesting. Not the most mongrel: a lot of pace and ball skill. Morne du Plessis is one of my rugby heroes; a real leader. Played a real linking game; more like Read than Vermeulen. Used an NFL-style overhead spiral cross-field pass like others might use a kick.

              Ellis & Greyling: fantastic!

              The 12-cap total for Carel is s bit misleading. He’d get those in one season nowadays. He played at the nadir (or apex) of our rugby isolation.

              For me, I couldn’t pick Naas at 10, but I know why you picked him. Honibal for me. Hopefully, soon, Pollard.

              • Roar Guru

                May 19th 2015 @ 10:50pm
                sheek said | May 19th 2015 @ 10:50pm | ! Report


                I know we’re digressing, but whenever I see old TV footage of Botha, he never ceases to amaze me.

                Perhaps it’s easy for me to assess him as a neutral without the highveld/coastal rivalry!

                It was said of Mark Ella he could read the play several passages ahead of most people. Botha had that same anticipation.

                As for one dimensional, I’ve seen him in old footage running the ball against the Lions in 1980, ABs in 81 & Cavaliers in 86. One dimensional, my foot.

                The only other guy in my time who could control a game with his boot like Botha was the great Puma Hugo Porta.

                But I can understand your preference for Henry Honiball. He was pretty special.

              • Roar Guru

                May 19th 2015 @ 11:40pm
                Harry Jones said | May 19th 2015 @ 11:40pm | ! Report

                Yes, Sheek. You’ve found me out! I cannot endorse Naas because at the time, the WP-Blue Bulls rivalry was very personal to me, and I just can’t pick him over Robbie Blair. Haha!

                Naas could drop kick from 40 m out with either foot–no lie. Saw him do it up close. A real old school footballer.

            • May 20th 2015 @ 2:46am
              Peeeko said | May 20th 2015 @ 2:46am | ! Report

              Percy and Naas , those two could kick.

            • May 21st 2015 @ 2:11am
              Pie_t said | May 21st 2015 @ 2:11am | ! Report

              You group Carel du Plessis and Errol Tobias on the bench with the implication that they’re interchangeable; Carel wasn’t a fly half and Errol wasn’t a wing. Also, unlikely that Frik du Preez would be a lock in the present day; much more likely a loosie.

              Balie Swart played in an historic team but I don’t think he was particularly outstanding when compared to some who came before him.

              Other than that you make an interesting point.

    • May 19th 2015 @ 5:20am
      Billy Bob said | May 19th 2015 @ 5:20am | ! Report

      Great stuff Clyde.

      I’ve never met Pat McCabe but I’ve often opined on these pages that if his blood could be transfused into thw whole national team the Wallabies would be unbeatable.

      A quiet hero who hails from my old club it seems, has won so many hearts because he gave so much of his own.

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