Australia legend David Campese bemoans the 'old boy's club' in rugby

EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’m worried about rugby’: David Campese, one of the game’s greatest showmen, explains how the sport can rediscover its entertainment factor – and claims there is ‘nothing better than beating the English’

  • David Campese spoke to Sportsmail ahead of the Australia-England Test series
  • Campese blasted the state of rugby and is worried fans are turning off from it
  • The Aussie legend claims there is not enough flair and attack in the game
  • Campese is backing Australia to beat England 2-1 in latest episode in rivalry

‘It’s more sunshine than you’ll ever get in England, so don’t come over here and whinge about it getting dark early!’ says David Campese, having been held up in an Uber during the Friday night rush-hour in Perth. 

He was trying to reach the harbour for a photoshoot before the early winter sun set, having spent the afternoon at a long lunch function with Eddie Jones and a group of guest speakers.

‘We had a referee doing a talk at the event. In our day, nobody cared who the referee was, How things have changed. When the hell did people start paying to watch referees?’

One of the most outspoken men in rugby, the sharp-tongued Australian, who has 101 Wallaby caps, jokes how he changed his speech when he realised Jones was in the audience. Posing for the cameraman before night quickly falls, he shares a few stories about their days together as Randwick team-mates. ‘He was a little a man with a big voice and nothing’s changed … typical hooker!’

As the shoot ends, he begins to run the rule over the state of the game.

David Campese sits down to speak to Sportsmail in Perth ahead of the Australia-England series

Campese is a legend for the Wallabies and now one of the game’s most outspoken characters

‘I’m worried about rugby,’ he says. ‘The hardest thing for me is when we played in the amateur era we entertained. Now it’s a different animal and it’s frustrating to watch. It’s all about winning. In the coach’s contract, the more they win the more contract they get. This weekend you’ve rugby league on AFL on and the Wallabies match so we need to entertain people. It’s a crowded market. Everyone loves to win, but we need to entertain or we won’t get the new fans.’

Taking a seat at a nearby bar, he settles in over a glass of wine. ‘Pinot noir, please. Australian. No pommy stuff.’ The place is bustling with office workers enjoying after-work drinks.

‘Look around,’ he says. ‘Go and ask that table over there and I bet they don’t know there’s a match on this weekend. How many Wallaby jerseys can you see? None. It’s sad.

‘I wasn’t joking about the referee earlier. People who know rugby love rugby but new fans aren’t interested in watching a referee constantly blowing a whistle. No one cared about referees when I played. The less involvement they had, the better. Now it’s like they are always looking for something to penalise, rather than letting the game flow. It’s pedantic.

Campese described England head coach Eddie Jones as a ‘little s***’ during his playing days

‘In 1991, a scrum took 11 seconds. Now they’re three minutes. Now we’ve got a game where the scrums are decided by referee. I’m a winger so I’ve got no idea what really goes on in the scrum. It used to be a weapon for the backline. Now it’s a weapon for penalties. Now they walk to a lineout instead of speeding the game up. It makes me sad because I played in an era where we played a style of rugby that people wanted to play. Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh.

‘These days, every team has the same play book. Every team does the same move where they pass the ball behind four forwards’ backs – and then probably stop play for a penalty from 20 phases earlier. 

‘We used to be penalised for obstruction if you pass the ball behind someone’s back. No one tries a dummy switch anymore. It’s more of a defensive game. How often do you see a half-back doing a little chip over like they did in that Barbarians game against England the other week. I want to see more flair and counter attack.’

Campese has plenty to say. At one point he receives a phone call from his wife, Lara, and promises to her that he will try not to say anything that could land him in trouble. When the call ends, he moves onto a possible solution.

‘Will Carling used to talk about rugby being run by 52 old farts. We had an opportunity to put Pichot in charge but unfortunately it’s still the same old boys club. I was in a box at the 2019 World Cup and I swear it was the same people making the rules as when I was playing! Nothing’s really changed. We need to move on and make the game more exciting. The bill at the member’s bar at Twickenham is probably more than the amount that’s invested into the grass roots game around the world. We need to pay way more attention to the grass roots game in Australia.’

Campese (pictured) blasted the current state of rugby and said the game was better in his day

Here in Australia, Campese has found himself marginalised in rugby’s conversations. He was only given a ticket to today’s match yesterday afternoon and there is one player he will have a particularly close eye on.

‘Who is this young speedster that Eddie was talking about who hasn’t played a test yet? He compared him to me at this lunch.’

Henry Arundell was the player in question and Campese looks up a video of the 19-year-old’s try against Toulon for London Irish.

‘Very good,’ he says, watching the clip back. ‘Great try. I wasn’t that quick. That’s a very good try but how often do you get that much space in an international rugby game? It’s great to have him on tour but I wouldn’t throw him in until the third Test at that age. We need players like. Flair is so important in our game. We need unpredictable players. There’s a lot of promising young guys coming through in Australia, too.’

Who is he looking forward to seeing at the Optus Stadium this afternoon, before he boards a late flight back home to the Gold Coast? ‘Marika Koroibete and Marcus Smith,’ he answers.

Campese says he is looking forward to seeing Marika Koroibete in action against England

‘I would like to see Tate McDermott who loves running the ball but instead we’ve got two No 9s who prefer to kick. Quade Cooper is a great player but everyone else needs to give him options to be able to create. I always loved Danny Cipriani. He was a similar mould. I remember watching him make a break at Twickenham and he looked around and all the other players were in position waiting for the next phase because they had no idea about unpredictability. Player are pre-programmed now. They just sit in the tram lines waiting for the ball.’

During his days in the green and gold jersey, Campese won six out of eight of his games against England. The current Wallabies team are on a rotten run of eight straight defeats by the English but, despite his fears for the state of the game down here, he is still backing the hosts for a series victory.

‘I think Australia will win 2-1 but who knows? I’m never going to back the English. I was brought up with Dennis Liillee and Geoffrey Boycott and that rivalry hasn’t changed. There’s nothing better than beating the Poms.’

The Australian veteran is backing his country to overcome England in the three-Test series

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