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Winners take chances, and that is just what the Wallabies need right now: Is it time to start listening to David Campese?

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Roar Guru
21st November, 2023
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2375 Reads

After the Eddie Jones debacle, Australian rugby will probably be gun-shy in using someone like legendary former Wallaby player David Campese in a major role moving forward.

However, it is fascinating to think how Campese would have gone coaching the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup 2023. Could he have done any worse than Jones?

At least the players would have had a license to play with the freedom and expression Campese did in his playing days and what he is advocating for in his outspoken manner today.

To lift Australian rugby out of the mire it finds itself in, it needs to find a role for ex-players like Campese who were part of the golden era of Australian rugby and possess a desire to return to those days.

In what capacity, I am unsure, but a direct relationship with the players to mentor, motivate and inspire them would in my opinion be advantageous.

In the 1988 Bledisloe Cup series after Campese was outplayed by his opposite John Kirwan, his mother gave him a poem, “Winners take Chances”, which he then read before each match following the All Blacks win.

Campese was a risk taker as a player, so, would Campo’s influence not be a breath of fresh air to overcome the overcoached and robotic style of play we see today?

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It appears that David Campese, like the late Jonah Lomu, is more revered overseas than he is at home, with a reluctance by bureaucracy to take advantage of his experienced and instinctive rugby brain.

As mentioned, even on this very site, not too long ago, the former Wallaby admitted to a rift with Hamish McLennan that he believes has seen him overlooked for many roles by the code’s governing body.

Or are independent thinkers and outspoken ex-players deemed to be too much thinking outside the square? Maybe a risk-taking individual from a small country town, like Campese, who reached stardom is deemed to be an outsider whose opinions are too confrontational.

Yes, he does have opinions, take his latest controversial statement about current players crying over games lost.

“I know I talk about the good old days, but it’s hard not to,” he was quoted in various media outlets. “I’m an old fart, I admit that, but I’ve always been outspoken, and I can’t say things are good if they are not.”

We have seen sportspeople like Kim Hughes, Steve Smith and Roger Federer cry at emotional times so I may not agree with Campo on that one, but for every disagreed statement there will be many others I do agree with him on. Take his provocative question: “Are the Springboks killing Test rugby?” which many commented on without realising Campo disagreed with the statement.

David Campese in 1991. Credit: Russell Cheyne/Allsport

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He said: “They play the game we all want to play; they have the support and culture many teams kill for and their mental strength and self-belief define their brands. They are a magnificent team, iconic in stature and their status as World Champions is nothing more than their brilliance and fortitude deserves”.

Until you visit South Africa and realise the passion they have for rugby and what it means to them, it is hard to degrade their style of play. Maybe that question is best presented to the English who Campese has labelled as boring since their Rugby World Cup semi-final win in 1991.

As with me, David Campese is a fierce critic of the modern game, but this comes from a passionate viewpoint rather than a negative one. He harks back to the days of sparkling players like Shane Williams and Phil Bennett who lit up the rugby stage and entertained the fans.

What will come of a brilliant talent such as Englishman Henry Arundell on the international stage – and will he have the instinctive style coached out of him?

Television Match Officials, referees and coaches have had their fair share of criticism from Campo with him noting that referees are aspiring to be the stars of the game and TMOs are ruining the spectacle. I agree with him that the game must be about scoring tries not kicking penalty goals and box kicking is far too common.

Campese the rugby player and Campese the media commentator are similar in that they express themselves in a maverick style, consistently good, but prone to the odd catastrophe.

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The player is acknowledged as being one of the great Wallabies, mercurial and a match winner as proven by his performance at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where his famous no-look pass to Tim Horan will go down in rugby folklore.

It was all calculated with Campese totally aware of where Horan was positioned, but what if it had not come off and the pass floated into touch? That is the risk taker and maverick making decisions.

A pass that did not come off in the 1989 series against the British and Irish Lions will also go down in rugby folklore but for the wrong reasons. A ball in the in-goal area that should have been forced, was instead offered to a fellow player in a mental lapse that cost Australia a try and the lead.

Is it strange that a no-look pass was more effective than a pass where he did look?

As with David Beckham and his sending off for the England football team for an error, Campese was vilified by fans and painted as erratic by unforgiving supporters.

A reputation he has not shaken off by those who forget his magnificent achievements over fourteen years of international rugby. A record setter in the number of Tests played and tries scored – and he received huge accolades from rugby identities like Bill McLaren, the noted rugby commentator.

McLaren, in 2001, nominated Campese as his favourite player, best rugby entertainer and the greatest rugby union player of all time. Journalist Spiro Zavos in the Sydney Morning Herald called Campese, “the Mozart of rugby.” Former coach Alan Jones even equated Campo to the great Don Bradman.

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Today’s Wallabies can only dream of having a career like Campese’s with regular victories over the All Blacks, a Rugby World Cup victory, audacious tries and a style of play from another planet.

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Before the youth of today dismiss rugby totally as a professional sports option, why not at least pay attention to what David Campese says and give him the opportunity to work with Australian players?

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