Six beers with David Campese
David Campese was one of the greatest players of his generation and his genius and dazzling skills have produced some of the gameís most memorable moments. A free spirit, he has always said and done his own thing and not everyone agrees with his views, but when he speaks everybody listens. As Telstra Corporation chairman Bob Mansfield said, he ìremains a compelling contributor to the game today.î Chris Schoeman spoke to the outspoken Wallaby legend about his views on the game...
How do you see the modern game compared to your era?
Nowadays you rarely find a Test where thereís a lot of creativity amongst the backs. There has been a lot of focus on continuity and coaches talk about ball in hand, but that doesnít necessarily mean involving the backs. It simply refers to not kicking the ball. You can shift the ball just one pass wide, the first receiver comes back into the forwards and they talk about ball in hand. Itís like watching paint dry.
They can call me old-fashioned, but thatís not my idea of what rugby is about. Itís about throwing the ball around, the backs being there to entertain. Modern day forwards mostly think they can play in the backline, but any selfrespecting three-quarter in possession should be able to stand up a lock or prop. Tight fives just clutter the backline.
The game is too structured and too predictable for my liking. You know what players are going to do before they do it. They run at brick walls of defence, set a target for their forwards to set up another phase. Itís about running at an opponent, taking him out of the defensive line and recycling the ball. Hopefully, eventually, enough defenders have been taken out to create an opportunity. We were taught to run between players, not at them.
How does that affect back play in general?
It blunts the creativity of the players. The idea should be to beat an opponent with skill. Modern coaches are obsessed with a backís weight, how much he can lift in the gym, etc. Thatís like playing rugby league. Players should be encouraged to show more flair, think laterally, excercise more options in certain situations. Iím sorry to say, but generally speaking the modern rugby player cannot think at all.
Backline play is about efficient passing, communication, running straight. Thatís what weíre trying to achieve with the Sharks.
With all the time available to them, surely their skills should be at a high level?
I donít understand why modern day players can fall short when it comes to skills. As professional players, all they do is practise and play football. How can they not be able to throw a spiral pass to either side, can a scrumhalf not be able to throw a bullett pass, can they not step off either foot or kick with either foot? Not many can, I tell you, and that sayís something of the modern era.
It used to annoy me no end when in my days some players would arrive as Wallabies and think they had made it, they were at the top and the work was finished. I never expected to make it as a player on natural ability alone and always worked hard on the skills side of it. And I did it in my own time, on my own, somewhere in some park.
Iím disappointed by what Iíve seen in the Super 14, Six Nations, etc. I watched a video the other day, where Ireland had a two on one situation but Geordan Murphy threw a pass a metre over his wingerís head. It should have been a certain try under the sticks. Now I ask myself what do they do in training?
I spent some time at Murray Mextedís academy in New Zealand and there were these elite youngsters from all over the world coming through the ranks. Grant Fox and I took them through some handling drills, but as the degree of difficulty was raised, they were struggling. It was obvious they had not been schooled properly in ball handling.
Is there anything new under the sun in the game?
No, but modern coaches think they have to re-invent the wheel. They get very technical and try to blind people with science. They have so much time on their hands, they have to come up with something ìnewî all the time to justify their big pay packets. The truth is the basics of rugby have not changed. The same things from the past are just called different names these days. Many of their drills have no ball involved which explains why so many guys look so uncomfortable once a ball comes their way.
I ask myself do all this new age drills really help? Has it made the modern players better players? No, it hasnít. I remember Gareth Edwards saying that even if he had trained as much as the players do in the modern era, it wouldnít have made him any better a player. Nor would it have made me a better footballer. I know all sides have developed physically, but skills should still be a priority.
I recognise that strength is important but youíve got to be able to think on the field.
Modern day players like Breyton Paulse, Frederick Michalak or Brent Russell are all highly skilled but they are small compared to most of the players and in the modern game it counts against them.
During the 1991 World Cup in England, when I had by far my best tournament, I weighed 82kg. At the 1995 World Cup I had bulked up to 92kg, a whole 10 kg more. But I sacrificed pace for bulk and I wasnít a better player at all.
Some critics have said that you live in the past, that you donít understand modern rugby?
I have been accused of talking a lot but that I donít understand the modern game, yes. I remember suggesting before the 1999 World Cup ñ only three years after my retirement, mind you - that Australia go back to some simple old-style moves to break up defences, rather than playing crash ball all the time. Some criticised me for not realising that the simple moves no longer work in the new era. Funnily enough Tonga scored under the sticks against the All Blacks from exactly a simple move that wasnít supposed to work in the modern era.
Thereís a lot to say for keeping the game simple and uncomplicated. The great Mark Ella had a wonderful saying: ìYou try to get from one end of the field to the other as easily as possible. Donít make it hard or complicated.î I cannot agree more.
The idea that the game has changed unrecognisably from what it had been a few years ago is a myth as far as Iím concerned. I concede that in some areas it has changed considerably, but the basics never did. The laws, tactics, fitness levels and the overall pace of the game have altered, yes, but what has lagged behind are the skills levels of the players and the adventurous thinking of the coaches.
I get the impression theyíre all afraid of failure, afraid of allowing their players to take risks. At least the All Blacks are currently showing a good degree of skill, while in the Northern Hemisphere the French players like Michalak and Jauzion have been more creative than the rest. The All Blacks obviously worked hard on their skills and furthermore they are allowed to play to their instincts. We would like to achieve that with the Sharks. All the coaches would now want to follow their style, but you need the players with the necessary skills. Itís no use the Springboks and Wallabies try to play like that.
Why is it that many of our great players from the past are not being utilised more by the unions and the national sides? Surely they have a lot to contribute?
The problem is that coaches and other officials feel threatened by ex-players who they realise know a lot more about the game than they do. They are afraid of being shown up in terms of a sound knowledge of the game or tactical nous. They might call on an ex-international occasionally to look after a certain aspect, but they wonít be allowed closer than that. A guy like Eddie Jones and I used to play together for Randwick, he as hooker. He never played for the Wallabies or came close to playing for them. He had no experience of what it was like or what it takes to play at the highest level. And a guy like Jake White, who has he played for? Also some club.
How do you see the role of the IRB?
They need to steer the game on a course that will allow it to flourish into the future. They need to build a game profile in the international community far in excess of what we have at present. The game is about entertainment and it needs pace and movement. If the game is steered in the direction of a physical forward battle, it is going to leave the general populace cold and the code is not going to become a hit around the world.
The IRB needs to provide the referees with a lawbook that is easy and simple to implement. The current laws make this impossible, there is too much room for ìinterpretationî by refs and too many grey areas. Unfortunately the coaches sit down with the IRB and they force the laws to suit themselves. Can we not make the laws simpler for players, refs and spectators alike?
I now hear that the refs are going to become very strict on players questioning their calls, like in cricket. They will even issue yellow cards, itís said. I think the refs are becoming ridiculous, the people didnít come to watch them perform.
Sometimes the things the IRB does donít make much sense. There are constant complaints about too much rugby but more matches are added on every year, like the Tri Nations and the Super 14 have been extended and there was even talk of a Celtic competition for SA teams. Itís all about money, and playersí careers are being sacrificed for more and more money.
Donít you think the professional players can become stale from all the rugby?
Of course they would, I would encourage players to get a pursuit away from the game, some job or something to take their minds off just rugby and more rugby. I would even suggest cutting back on the number of training sessions, to maximum four per week. Should they really be out there every hour of every day, getting stale and thinking about nothing but rugby? The truth of the matter is that if youíre out there eight, nine hours a day, you can get bored as in any other job. And Iím sure the guys do. With the fun going out of the game, it becomes even worse.
ìThe idea that the game has changed unrecognisably from what it had been a few years ago is a myth as far as Iím concerned. I concede that in some areas it has changed considerably, but the basics never did.î
David Campese is currently a skills consultant for the KwaZulu Natal Rugby Union and the Sharks in the Super 14. He played 101 Tests for Australia and still holds the world record for most tries in Tests (64).