DAVID CAMPESE has always followed his own path so we shouldn’t be too surprised to discover that while his beloved Australia are taking on Scotland at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney tomorrow morning, he is about as far away as it is possible to get and will be watching the game from a hotel in Dundee.
The Wallaby legend is speaking at Carnoustie Rugby Club’s 40th anniversary dinner tonight as a guest of The Bill McLaren Foundation. After watching the game tomorrow, he is going to play a round of golf with a charity auction winner, and then run a coaching clinic which will be attended by roughly 60 local youngsters on Sunday. In amongst all that he is hoping to attend a beach rugby tournament on Carnoustie beach front tomorrow afternoon.
It should be a cracking couple of days, but his appreciation for the hospitality in store cannot cloud his judgement when it comes to predicting the outcome of the big match on Saturday morning.
“Don’t be stupid, don’t ask me a question like that, who do I support? I reckon Australia by ten,” he states, before conceding that this is not the sort of prediction you would want to bet your mortgage on.
“You’d have to say Scotland have a chance after last year’s November tour when you guys were winning with a couple of minutes to go, and the 2015 World Cup … you could go on for ever talking about the tight games between the two teams,” he concedes.
“So we’ve got two teams who are pretty even and I think it is going to be a really interesting game. The image of Scottish rugby has definitely improved back home. We know they are a force to be reckoned with. Not a lot of them are household names in Australia but there is an understanding that they are very good, and it’s good for world rugby that everyone is getting closer and closer. Australia can’t afford to have a bad day.”
There is a fair bit of angst down under at the moment about the state of the game, but Campese is fairly confident that his old friend Michael Cheika can have the Wallabies flying by the time the 2019 World Cup comes around, by entrusting the players to become masters of their own destiny.
“With Australia versus Fiji last week, our guys should have scored more; but if you look at our performances in Super Rugby this year, you can’t just turn around and play sensational rugby when you haven’t been on form all season,’ he muses.
“We’ve quantity but we haven’t got the quality of players. We’ve got some young guys Cheika has looked after but we are at the building stage two years out from a World Cup. So he has got to try things to make sure he has the right team for the World Cup, and it is up to the players to stand up and be counted. The coach is obviously looking for the next line of talent, but are they there and really interested in standing up to be the next set of stars? That’s up to them as individuals.”
“We are probably where the All Blacks were once upon a time, but we’ve got to get that monkey off our back now – we’ve got to just get out there and play rugby. We know we have to play the All Blacks and South Africa all the time – that’s not going to change – so we’ve got to understand that we can win these games.
“You are playing for your country and you just give it 80 minutes of your best rugby – if you do that, and it is a team effort, then things will happen. If you know you can win then that makes a big difference, and I think that’s what Cheika is fighting for.”
“I played club rugby with him at Randwick, along with Eddie Jones and the Ella brothers, and we had a winning mentality – no matter where we went we knew we could win. And that’s what he is trying to instil in this Australian team.”
Without so much as a goose-step, the great man is now well into his stride, and a lack of player power in the game is clearly something which really bugs him
“The coaches control the game from the grandstand. The number of people running out there and telling the guys how to play … they are fulltime professionals, surely they’ve got to think for themselves! They should be trying to understand what the problem is and sorting it out for themselves. It should be about the players, not the coaches.
“When I started out, coaches weren’t allowed on the oval at all. They used to give a note to the reserve, who would come down and give it to the captain, who would read it out and say: ‘Right, this is what we are going to do: you guys in the scrum, work it out, and if you don’t work it out in the next ten minutes we are going to change things again’.”
“Now, we’ve got that example in the Six Nations this year when Eddie Jones got upset because Italy didn’t attack the ruck. He said it wasn’t rugby – well, that’s the law! And the real scandal is how long it took his players to understand what was going on before the coach got involved and told them what to do. In our day we’d have fixed that straight away, because the players had more input. Now it is all about the coach.”
Another [related] concern is that the focus is now too much on physicality, and that constant law changes are aimed at appeasing an unhealthy bigger is better mind-set, whereas a bit more focus on basic skills should be the key to improving the sport as a spectacle.
“It frustrates me that those little basic skills aren’t always there – it is all about size, power and how hard you hit. Rugby is a very simple game and we make it very difficult for ourselves. The young guys need to understand about the simple things – if we do the simple things right then the rest is easy,” he explains.
“We change the rules to suit who? The rules were good ones once upon a time. We keep on changing them because people complain … but we need to ask why these people are complaining. The game shouldn’t be run for those who shout the loudest.”
“If you watch last week’s match between South Africa and France, there was a moment when South Africa were going for the line and a French player obstructed, the ball bounced, the South African knocked it on and complained, it went upstairs and the Frenchman got a penalty try against him and ten minutes in the bin. So he got penalised twice.”
“Really? Can we not look at it and say: ‘Yes, he obstructed’ – give them the try and say: ‘Mate, please don’t do that again’.”
“Then there’s three tries to South Africa in ten minutes and a game which had been a good spectacle is turned into a bit of a joke. People pay money to watch a Test match and one action in the heat of the moment destroys it. We need a bit of common sense. It used to very unusual for a player to be sent-off, now we’ve gone to the other extreme where any little thing and your off.
“Unfortunately, that’s the game of rugby now. It’s professional and players get paid for all the work they put in – fantastic. But look at the Test matches last week: Italy play Scotland in Singapore in front of 8,000 people; Australia played Fiji at AAMI Park in Melbourne and it was not anywhere near full [13,500 in a 30,050 capacity stadium]; and South Africa versus France at Loftus Versfeld was almost half empty [29,000 in a 51,762 capacity stadium].
“Why is that? If we’ve got such a great sport, and we’ve changed the laws to make it even better, then where are all the people?”
Campese never was one for biting his tongue – so why not hand him a hand grenade to finish off with?
How does he see the remainder of the Lions tour panning out
“It was never going to be easy in New Zealand. They have five Super Rugby teams who are fantastic, they all play the same style and they’ve got great players, so the Lions are understanding now that you can’t ease into a tour there. They’ve got the Maori tomorrow, the Chiefs on Tuesday, so it doesn’t get any easier – but that’s the respect the Lions have been given,” says international rugby’s most prolific try scorer of the amateur era.
“I think this is the best chance that the Lions have ever had. I think Warren Gatland is in a great position and I told him that at the Hong Kong Sevens. You’ve got four teams performing well, and you’ve got some great players – all you’ve got to do is combine them.”
It’s as easy as that!