Wallabies Legend David Campese says Rugby is all about attack
Few names ring out so majestically when roared in try-fuelled exaltation.
David Campese’s genius on a rugby field is legendary. Grand Slam winning Wallabies coach Alan Jones once referred to him as the ‘Don Bradman of Rugby’, high praise for the electrifying winger who played 101 tests for the Wallabies from 1982 to 1996 and was instrumental in the historic Grand Slam tour of 1984 and World Cup victory in 1991.
Speaking with David Morrow and Mat Thompson as part of their weekly Heroes segment, Campese reflects on the influence Alan Jones had on the team’s work ethic when he took over as head coach from Bob Dwyer.
“He [Jones] made our attitude professional, even though there was no money, but he made us work bloody hard,” Campese said.
Presently, Australian rugby is in a perilous state on and off the field, and the success we grew used to in the mid 1980s and through to the mid 2000s feels a world away. The game is not devoid of talent but Campese believes the structured, rigid approach employed by modern coaches prevents players from being individuals.
“Our way of playing is attack, unpredictable flair, run from anywhere, and we haven’t got that now,” Campese said.
“The problem is they don’t like individual players because they can’t control them so they’d rather not pick them, that’s the problem with coaches.”
Campese is right when he states that attack is the essence of Australia rugby, a fact which becomes immediately apparent when you speak to local fans. Campese is a student of attacking rugby and is baffled by our modern obsession with defence, blaming the influence of Rugby League.
“When we went professional, if you have a look, there was a lot of Rugby League influence, a lot of Rugby League defence coaches came across to our game,” Campese said.
“We used to spend, before a test match, five minutes on defence,
“Now they spend more time doing defence than attack.
“Rugby League gets nothing from our game, but we want to change our game to suit something else.”
David Campese is the Wallabies all-time leading try scorer and his highlight reel sparks arousal levels in even the most casual rugby fan. In 1991, Campo was rated as the best player in the world and was the leading try scorer in the World Cup, yet try in particular stands out more than most.
The Wallabies played Ireland in the quarter final and trailed by 3 points with four minutes left on the clock. Gordon Hamilton had given Ireland the lead which they held for only three minutes before Campese’s mastery forced a dramatic climax.
It’s a Rugby World Cup year and, historically speaking, the game should be frothing with anticipation in Australia. It’s not, and there is no simple explanation for why that is the case. Campese suggests the game needs something simple yet elusive: flair.
Looking back on the Rod McQueen coached Wallabies era, Campese says McQueen was a non-risk taking coach.
“He never liked me because no one knew what I was going to do, that’s why he picked Gregan and Larkham for so many years because he knew they would do the job they were told to do,”
“If you look back at that sort of success, which was great, but long term – now we haven’t got any flair players.
“I’ve been coaching around the country for 12 months and it’s not great out there.”
Modern footballers posses a set of skills which, in some cases, permits them to hop between codes. Israel Folau has played Rugby League, AFL, and Rugby Union, while Sonny Bill Williams has flip-flopped between League and Union on multiple occasions while boxing in his spare time. Back when Campese’s career was in its infancy, Rugby was an amateur game and playing for your country was a side-hustle away from your 9-to-5 gig.
Was David Campese ever tempted to bail on the amateur game of Rugby Union for the cashed up contracts on offer in Rugby League?
“I had [options with] Parramatta, I had St George,” Campo said.
“Tom Hafey even thought I might be a good Aussie Rules Player.”
Luckily the game they play in heaven was more appealing than the game they play in Melbourne.
Click PLAY to hear the in-depth conversation in full: