As a rugby player, David Campese was the epitome of a free spirit.
Never afraid to try the unexpected, even if it did occasionally cost his team the game, the mercurial winger was first capped for Australia against New Zealand in 1982, and retired from international rugby in 1996 having won 101 caps and scored a world record 64 tries for his country.
Since hanging up his boots, Campese, who was the MVP of the 1991 Rugby World Cup, has continued to court controversy with his outspoken comments on the game.
In Tokyo recently for a series of coaching clinics that coincided with the visit of the Australia A team to Japan, Campese took some time out from a party he was hosting at the Frog and Toad pub in Roppongi to share some of his views with The Japan Times.
Well known for never holding back and saying what is on his mind, Campese had, on a couple of occasions during his stay, told members of the Japan Rugby Football Union and Japanese rugby fans that the national team would never do well under the present climate.
“Japan should basically forget about this World Cup and start thinking about 2007,” Campese said.
“Japan needs to change its rugby culture,” he continued. “There is no point having all these foreign players over here if they cannot put something back into the game by coaching. Too many coaches over here did not play the game at a high level. The coaching here is a real problem.”
The enigmatic Australian went on say that foreign coaches needed to be brought in at the high school and university levels and players taught that training could be fun.
“Why is it that I cannot coach a team in Japan despite the experience I have, all because I do not have a Grade 1 coaching license?” he questioned.
One coach who would probably agree with Campese is Masahiro Kunda. The former Japan hooker and coach of Toshiba Fuchu is one of the coaches of the Japan Under-21 side that has been decimated by withdrawals ahead of the forthcoming Under-21 World Cup in England.
Kunda’s assistant coach Scott Pierce, who has spent the last 10 years playing and coaching in Japan, said earlier that day at Chichibunomiya, “We probably have around a third of the players that we wanted. One university refused to release any players despite their season not starting until September and the captain of another university said his college was more important than playing for his country.”
Campese’s reply when hearing that was straight to the point. “Ban them all. If you do not want to play for your country you shouldn’t be playing rugby.”
As a direct comparison, Josh Valentine, Mark Gerrard and Peter Hynes were all flying directly from Tokyo following the Australia A tour to join up with the Australian Under-21 team in England.
This reluctance to put country first is at the very core of the rugby culture that Campese wants changed.
Although the corporate teams have relented a little in the past year it is still difficult for players to commit themselves to the national team as they are reluctant to upset their employers. The weakened teams taken by Japan to the Asian Games in Pusan, South Korea, and the Asian Rugby Championships in Bangkok was clear evidence of this — and the result — it lost to South Korea in both tournaments.
Regarding the game on June 8, which Australia A won 66-15, Campese did not seem overly impressed, either with the touring Australians or the attitude of some of the local administrators.
“Can you believe it. They actually said ‘Thank you’ to me when Japan finally scored,” he mused.
“I asked some of the Australian backs why they kept running crash-balls instead of trying to go around their opponents and they told me that was what they were told to do,” he said.
“That’s the problem with the modern game. The players have just become robots. I know what they are going to do before they even do it.”
However, the man who trade-marked the “goose-step” did have praise for four players of the professional era.
“Andrew Walker, Chris Latham, Carlos Spencer and, as a finisher, Doug Howlett are the only players who can and occasionally do do the unexpected.”
But, when asked if he fancied lining up alongside some of the modern-day players, Campese replied, “I played alongside some of the greats. Mark Ella, Nick Farr-Jones, Tim Horan. Why would I want to play today!”
As he once said about the man who is now technical director of the Japan national team, “Mark Ella was the best I played with — he was never the greatest trainer but was so instinctive he just knew exactly what was going to happen five paces ahead. I loved playing with him. All he would ever say to me is: ‘Just look out for me.’ He was always there.”
Ella himself has said that “since the retirement of David Campese, Australian rugby has had few players with the uncanny knack of doing the unusual, dumbfounding the opposition or creating a level of excitement that thrilled the fans.”
Imagine what the two of them could do if they were ever allowed to join forces and help coach the young players in Japan.
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