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The privilege of seeing a rugby star born

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Roar Guru
11th October, 2019
11

Those of us who have immersed ourselves in this beautiful game know that some days are good, others are bad and some are just plain indifferent.

My personal rugby journey has comprised being an average player, okay coach, four-eyed referee, great sausage sizzler, webmaster, okay manager, okay mentor, grand final-winning coach in lower grades, national-level women’s coach (an interesting challenge), proud dad of junior representative player, coach of littlies, happy spectator, old fart, Roar guru and total tragic.

But this article is not about talentless people like me. It’s about genuine talent.

Every now and then we have the wonderful privilege of seeing a special talent. I first encountered David Campese in a game between Australian Services and NSW Country/ACT.

David Campese of the Wallabies in action during a Rugby Union test match between Wales and the Australian Wallabies at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Australia won 28-9.

David Campese (Getty Images)

Campo was probably about 17 or so. The game was a Wednesday fixture at Victoria Barracks in Sydney and I was running the line that day.

Services did pretty well, as I recall. I managed to be behind the posts for the conversion a couple of times, and he put on a masterclass of speed and guile that day.

I did meet him a couple of years later in about 1986 when he came to speak at a fete at my son’s primary school. He was a picture of humility, and we had a bit of a chat. I didn’t bother reminding him of our original encounter – there was no point given his career had really moved on from there.

He was a lovely bloke, but the real point is that talent is not only precocious but completely hard to categorise.

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Then I saw Michael Lynagh playing in a grand final at Ballymore for his club side. I had obviously watched him playing for Queensland and Australia, but to watch him close up, playing for his club, having a good day out, was special. You just saw this sublime talent with time and space to burn. It was almost like he was playing a different game to everyone else.

The body movement, the acceleration, the complete control of mind and body in contact – he was a privilege to watch.

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I’ve seen many talented players since then, but for one or two of them there is always an incident that sticks out. That languid precociousness, that time and space and that ability to play what was presented to them and think on their feet.

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Lachlan Turner burning defenders off down the left touchline. Drew Mitchell doing the same but having that innate sense to come inside and run great lines. Joe Roff – sublime!

Steve Larkham is my personal favourite, though I wish I had seen him playing club footy in his early days But I am biased Canberran.

The George Gregan tackle, the way that he created space on the inside to benefit of Owen Finnegan and the way that whole backline always seemed to have an extra yard of space or an extra second or two.

I’m not talking about all the great games or the great things that those players did; just those few special moments when you say to yourself, “I am in the presence of greatness”.

It is a special privilege that you get now and then to say you were there or at least saw it. I’m sure that you Roarers can think of many more such moments, and I know you will. I’m sure the threads will totally go off track, as they always tend to do, and I can only hope you will stick to the theme of this article.

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I could go on. but the real point of this article is Jordan Petaia. I am pretty sure that we all had that special privilege last week of seeing that again – that moment in time when something special happens in a game. When he gets the ball out wide, has an innate sense that he needs to come infield, skips, jumps over one player, swerves and links to Tevita Kuridani. That try was on from the moment Jordan started to carry.

We can only hope that his young body gets to a point where those early-career injuries stop. Maybe his body was telling him not to go out too hard too soon. Who knows. But I for one am looking to him to be a mainstay of the Wallabies for the next decade and to be able to say that I was privileged to see him play that day.