David Ian Campese
- 623Wallaby Number
David Campese, the unpredictable, mercurial genius of the goose-step mesmerised rugby fans the world over. He thrived in space, he was brilliantly instinctive, elusive, ubiquitous, daring and different. He was the most exciting rugby player of his generation, and among the most brilliant of all time. His try-scoring feats were legendary. No matter what kind of rugby he played, Campese was a match-winner and, with his sheer audacity and skill, a thorn in the side of every team he played. Immensely passionate about the game of rugby Campese simply wanted to be the best possible player he could be. He had that rare attribute of a champion, the ability to produce his best under the spotlight on the biggest stage, particularly at the 1991 Rugby World Cup. Essentially his rugby career was one very long highlight reel. Oddly, he was possibly more revered overseas than at home.
Born in Queanbeyan, Campese played his early rugby for the Whites as a fullback, the position he always preferred. In 1982 he left spectators simply in awe of his talent with a stunning performance against New Zealand U21s in a curtain-raiser for the Scotland Test in Sydney. Although Australia won the Test all after the match talk was about the performance of the fullback from Canberra in the early game. The Wallaby selectors then rolled the dice and picked him for the senior tour of New Zealand. On his arrival at Auckland airport a journalist asked Campese what he thought of marking star All Black winger Stu Wilson to which he replied, ‘Stu who?’ Campese was quickly labelled brash and arrogant for the comment however he had genuinely not heard of Wilson and he certainly had not intended to appear dismissive of Wilson or his abundant talent. Campese dazzled in the early provincial matches of the tour, and at age 19, was chosen to make his Test debut in Christchurch. He scored a memorable try in that match after he outfoxed Wilson on the outside to secure a Mark Ella cross-field kick. Wilson later said that Campese “made life hell for me for three Tests.” It was the start of a fabulous career.
In 1983 against Argentine he goose-stepped his way past fullback Bernardo Miguens to score a try at the S.C.G. Campese’s change of pace so comprehensively deceived Miguens that he dived into touch, clutching nothing but thin air. The Welsh referee Clive Norling was so impressed that he told Campese it was the best try he had ever seen. In the 1984 Grand Slam finale against the Barbarians at Cardiff Arms Park Campese turned Welsh international centre Robert Ackerman “inside out” as he stepped seven times in a withering 65 metre run, before he passed to Michael Hawker for the try. Alan Jones said the image of Campese in that movement was the metaphor of his career.
Not all went as planned or ended well, particularly ‘that pass’ to Greg Martin in the deciding 3rd Test of the 1989 series against the British Lions. Lions’ winger Ieuan Evans was jolly on the spot, fell on the ball and scored the series winning try. Campese was horribly vilified for the mistake and not only by the rugby public. Coach Bob Dwyer said after the match: ‘I don’t think that try cost us the game at all.’
1991 was the pinnacle of his rugby life and never were his raw talents more on display than in the cauldron of the Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. From a ruck some 10 metres out from the All Black line and just to the right of the posts, Nick Farr-Jones found Campese on his left at first receiver. In a scything, angled run he ghosted past three defenders and turned John Kirwan first inside then outside and finally inside again to beat him and score in the left corner. Later in the first half Michael Lynagh chipped a kick beyond the All Black defence. Campese regathered the ball, stepped right and then left to briefly stall the defence. He then threw an audacious, over the shoulder, no look pass to Tim Horan who scored what would be the match-sealing try.
In 1994 Campese scored a simply astonishing try against Western Samoa. On the run and cornered at the attacking 22 and the sideline Campese chipped over the head of the nearest defender, raced through and without slowing plucked the bouncing ball off his toes to dive over for the try. Then there was Sevens. If he was good to watch in a fifteen-a-side game, he was simply sublime in Sevens. Campese was so good because he gave the illusion of easy grace in beating opponents and scoring tries, but that grace came only after years of dedication, hard work and practice.
In 2002 he was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia “for service to Rugby Union football as a player and promoter of the sport, and to the community.” Five years later Campese was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame and in 2013 he entered the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Campese was one of a kind and it is quite possible that we will ever see his like again.
David Campese played 101 Tests for Australia and scored a record 64 tries, in a phenomenal 15-year international career.
Represented Australian U21s against Fiji U21 (47-4) at Ballymore and New Zealand U21 (36-12) at the S.C.G. Campese won his first Test cap on the left wing in the 1st Test, 16-23 loss to New Zealand at Lancaster Park. He scored his first Test try in that match to become the 55th Wallaby to score a try on debut. Campese was capped in both the 2nd and 3rd Tests of that series.
Campese played all seven Tests of the season, five on the right wing in partnership with Brendan Moon and two at fullback after Roger Gould injured his quadriceps against the U.S.A. He finished the year as both the top points scorer (51) and try scorer (5). Represented Australian U21s when they defeated New Zealand U21s 26-18 at Pukekohe. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
He was capped in all eight internationals, one at fullback against Fiji, four on the right wing - New Zealand (3) and England - and, after Brendan Moon broke his right arm at Twickenham, three on the left wing - Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Campese did not play in the home series against Canada or the one-off Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland after he dislocated his shoulder playing for the ACT against Victoria but picked up caps in both Tests against Fiji. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Campese started all seven Tests. He was on the right wing for the opening Test against Italy, shifted to fullback for the next five matches - France (1), Argentina (2) and New Zealand (2) - and returned to the right wing for the 3rd Test, 22-9 victory in Auckland. Campese topped the try scoring list with eight. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
He was selected to his first Rugby World Cup and played in all six Australian matches. In the semi-final with France, Campese scored his 25th Test try to break Scot Ian Smith’s world record. Campese played on the right wing in the one-off Bledisloe Cup Test loss but did not tour to South America due to a cracked navicular bone in his left ankle. Captained Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Campese played on the left wing in all eight internationals and finished the season as the top try scorer (7). Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
He was capped in each of the three home Tests against the British Lions, in the one-off Bledisloe Cup Tests and in both matches of the away series with France. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Campese was not selected for the 1st Test against France given that he had only recently arrived home after a stint with Milan in Italy. He then played fullback in the 2nd and 3rd Tests of the French series and in the one-off win over the U.S.A. Campese was shifted to the left wing in order to accommodate Greg Martin at No.15 in the 1st Test against New Zealand however he returned to fullback for the 2nd and 3rd Tests. Campese played his 50th international in the 3rd Test, 19-25 loss to France in Sydney and then surpassed Simon Poidevin as the most capped Wallaby of all-time when he played his 52nd Test, the 1st Test against New Zealand in Christchurch.
Campese played on the right wing in all 10 Tests. He was selected to his second Rugby World Cup and was named Player of the Tournament. Campese finished the season as the Wallabies’ top try scorer (9).
Campese started on the right wing in each of Australia’s eight Tests. He scored his 50th Test try in the 26-3 victory over South Africa in Cape Town. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
For a third consecutive season he was capped in every Test - Tonga (1), New Zealand (1), South Africa (3), Canada (1) and France (2). Campese also topped the try scoring list with five. Represented Australia at both the Sevens World Cup in Edinburgh and the Hong Kong 7s.
He was capped on the right wing in all six Tests of 1994. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.
Campese played on the right wing in both Tests of the home series with Argentina. He was selected to his third Rugby World Cup and played in three of Australia’s four matches. Campese was not selected when available for the 1st Test against New Zealand in Auckland. He returned to the squad for the 2nd Test in Sydney and won his first and only cap as a replacement.
In his final season of international rugby Campese won nine Test caps. He became the first Australian to play 100 Tests in the 40-18 victory over Italy in Padova.
Represented Australia at the Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong.
Campese won a bronze medal for Australia in the Men’s Sevens at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Represented Australia at the Hong Kong 7s.