David Campese was one of the most dynamic and influential players in modern rugby. Over a career spanning 14 years, the Australian made 101 Test appearances and scored 64 tries for the Wallabies – then a world record. Moreover, in the course of contesting three World Cup tournaments, he played an integral role in the Australian’s eventual victory in 1991.
Famous for his creative and unpredictable playing style, Campese finally hung up his rugby boots in 1996 after playing his last Test against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. In 2003, he received a Centurions Award, joining Phillipe Sella of France and England’s Jason Leonard after becoming one of the only three players, at the time, to receive over 100 caps.
Campo kicks start his career
Otherwise known as ‘Campo’ or ‘Too Easy’, David Ian Campese was born on October 21 1962 in Queanbeyan, near Canberra, in Australia. After developing an appetite for the game during his teenage years, he gained a place with his local team, the Queanbeyan Whites.
His natural skills were recognised and, in 1982, he was spotted by the international coach at the time, Bob Dwyer, during a game against Fiji. He was selected to play against the New Zealand Colts for Australia’s Under 21 side the following week and scored an unlikely try. Following his impressive display, the 19 year old travelled to New Zealand shortly after, where he received his first full Australian cap. Despite losing his debut match against the home side, Campese showed a maturity beyond his years against his opposite number, Stu Wilson. As well as scoring his first international try, Campese put on a fine overall performance which demonstrated the creativity and undeniable flair of the former rugby league player.
In 1983, he once again proved his skills against a struggling USA by scoring four tries. However, it wasn’t all going for Campese as, during the Bedisloe Cup match against New Zealand the same year, the full back failed to successfully score from any of the four goal kicks taken during the game. The home team were eventually defeated 18-8, and Campese was quickly criticized by the media and coach Bob Dwyer for his erratic kicking style.
Nevertheless, Campo joined the Wallabies on their tour of the British Isles and the tide changed yet again in his favour. Under the direction of new coach, Alan Jones, the team celebrated a monumental Grand Slam victory in 1984, following an unforgettable try from the unstoppable Australian. Campo continued to set the rugby world alight in the following years, as the Wallabies went on to beat the All Blacks in the Bedisloe Cup in 1986, taking the trophy back to Australia for the first time in 37 years.
Following the narrow victory, Australia became the favourites to walk away with the World Cup in 1987. Sadly though, after becoming the world’s leading try scorer, an injury forced Campese to miss the semi-final. Missing the talismanic Campese, the Wallabies were outplayed by the French in the match and unceremoniously dumped out of the competition.
Despite a strong performance from Campo in the ensuing tour of the British Isles, during which the Australian scored five tries, a string of defeats for the international side followed, including a loss in the Bedisloe Cup. Following this disappointment in 1989, Campese produced a move that would be remembered as one of the most disastrous throughout his career against the British Lions. As the critical final Test reached its climax, Campese threw an impossible blind pass on the goal line to teammate Greg Martin. The mistake would seal a British victory on Australian soil and a media backlash ensued.
Campo hits back
Facing a torrent of criticism, 1991 was the year that Campo truly hit back at his assailants. During a season which saw the Australian score nine tries, including six during the World Cup, Campese was named Player of the Tournament. This was soon after following by the ultimate accolade of World Player of the Year.
Campese would return to the World Cup final in 1995 but his appearance was less successful and signalled the twilight of his career. In 1998, he returned to international duties as Australia’s coach for the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. The Australian side left Kuala Lumpur with a bronze medal. Shortly after, he became national coach to the Singapore Rugby Union.
A controversial career
New to the rugby arena, Campese ruffled some rugby feathers early in his career after claiming that he had never heard of rugby legend, Stuart Wilson. The incident would prove telling in retrospect, as Campese quickly developed a reputation as one who would never shy away from a fight or withhold his opinion.
Also forming a well-publicised on field rivalry with New Zealander, and opposite number, John Kirwin, Campese didn’t win many more friends across the water either. After criticizing the England team for adopting a less than adventurous style of play, he was forced to publicly retract his comments after their World Cup victory against Australia in 2003. Indeed, shortly after the Wallabies defeat in the final, Campese walked through London with a placard, humbly admitting that the best team had won. It was a jovial gesture that was welcomed by the English following years of harsh criticism from the Australian.
Campese was also guilty of outwitting and humiliating numerous opponents through his unpredictable and innovative playing style. Famous for his unique running techinque, named ‘goosestepping’, Campese would trick the opposition into believing that he was slowing down when he was actually accelerating – quite a feat!
Making his mark
It was not unknown for referees to verbally applaud Campese on displays of genius during games. Most notably, Welshman Clive Norman congratulated Campese ‘on the best try that he had ever seen’, shortly after notching up five points against Argentina.
Despite any lows during his illustrious career, Campese has received worldwide recognition for his contribution towards the game of rugby. This was reflected in his induction into the International Rugby Hall of Fame and eventual award of the Order of Australia Medal.