David Campese was one of the game’s great enigmas.
Ever ready to try something daring, ever ready to entertain, ever perceived as a bit of a show-pony at times, always remembered north of the equator for handing the Lions a Test series victory, it often goes unremarked or unnoticed how good all-round a player ‘Campo’ was, even more unnoticed how hard he worked.
But by the time he retired, a veteran of 101 international matches and 64 international Test tries, a record that stood for a long time, he was perhaps finally getting more of a nod to his abilities in what was an extraordinary rugby career in both fifteens and sevens.
As Bob Dwyer put it: “It was reported many times that he [Campese] was on the verge of switching to rugby league, and the entire rugby world should be grateful this did not happen.”
As many players are in Australia, Campese was a master of many sports. Born in Queanbeyan near Sydney, rugby union was behind golf, Aussie rules and rugby league in his pecking order, particularly golf, in which he won a local state schoolboys’ competition. But by the age of 18 he had cracked the local first-grade club side and was now focusing ever more on rugby union.
Campese was a bit of a nomad, playing for Queanbeyan and Randwick in Australia at club level, for ACT and New South Wales at provincial level and interspersing those with spells in Italy at Padova and Milan, where he won several championships with both. He also played a significant amount of sevens for Australia and was a regular at the Hong Kong Sevens for years.
In all, his international career spanned 16 years that included three Rugby World Cups, a remarkable achievement for a winger.
He made his mark early, scoring tries in each of his first two Tests, both against New Zealand, before setting a new record for international Test tries by scoring four in a match against the USA.
His first European tour was Australia’s famed ‘Grand Slam’ series, where they beat all the home nations.
By the time the Rugby World Cup came around in 1987, Campese was in his prime, and during that tournament he became the all-time top international try-scorer.
In the 1991 World Cup, Campese not only was the tournament’s leading try-scorer, he also produced a memorable piece of skill, a no-look behind-the-head pass, to bamboozle the New Zealand defence and send Tim Horan away for the game-turning try (the other Australian try Campese scored himself).
A moment of brilliance from David Campese! 🇦🇺
⏪ Remembering THAT pass from 1991 pic.twitter.com/5KEdLxoafj
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) June 3, 2020
In between those World Cups, Campese also arguably cost Australia a Lions series victory, when he dummied away from behind his own line and then threw a pass to nobody, which was gleefully seized upon by Ieuan Evans for the game-turning try in the final Test.
But by 1991 and that semi-final, all had been forgiven – and the standing ovation afforded him by Cardiff Arms Park for his last international match in December 1996 was a fitting exit for one of the game’s greatest.
Campese can be as flamboyant off the field as he was on it, often causing controversy with some direct remarks and assessments.
He has dabbled in coaching without too much significant success, but is a frequent appearance on televisions and rugby talk shows and in newspapers with some good forthright assessments.
He has an older brother, Mario, and two sisters, Lisa and Corinna. His father Gianantonio was a wine-making immigrant from northern Italy. He is married to Lara and has three children, Sienna, Jason and Mercedes.
Campese has many business interests, including a rugby store and coffee shop in Sydney and is a popular booking on the celebrity speaking and hosting circuit. He also runs his own rugby academy, so he is doing just fine for himself.
READ MORE: Matt Giteau: Everything you need to know about the Wallabies legend
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