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November 05, 2020 21 min read

Rugby Wisdom Podcast

David Campese


David Campese:Eddie Jones wants what he wants. He wants monsters. He wants basic Andre the Giants, eight of those in his pack, Hulk Hogan at number nine, and that’s what he wants. If he wants that, let him go and do something else. 

Craig Wilson: Welcome back to our Rugby Wisdom podcast. I am absolutely delighted to have David Campese on the show with me. He is known as one of the most iconic rugby players in the world with his flair, his skill level, and his ability to unlock defenses. As ever, Campo is at his absolute best in this. He is engaging, funny, and insightful, so I hope you enjoy the show. 

Before we jump into the show, this is a great time to remind you that WorldRugbyShop.com has all the official merchandise for the Six Nations team. They also have the largest selection of official All Blacks gear in the United States, so make sure you visit WorldRugbyShop.com and wear your team’s colors with pride. 

David, thanks for joining me on the podcast. 

David Campese: Mate, you’re welcome. 

Craig Wilson: So, where in the world are you right now? 

David Campese: Actually, in beautiful Sidney. It’s been very interesting times, as I suppose you guys in America found out, as well. It’s a bit of a lockdown, but we’ve been very lucky. Because we’re an island, we closed the borders pretty quick, but probably not quick enough. And yeah, a lot of the kids have been playing sports. We’re just changing seasons from rugby into cricket. 

Craig Wilson: Well, what does a typical day look for you right now then? 

David Campese: Well, obviously take the kids to school in the morning. Probably go to the gym. I lost my job with Rugby Australia in August, so it’s been pretty quiet. I have done a few individual coaching, I’m mentoring a couple players as well who play first grade, so I’ve got a session this afternoon, actually. So, final time on Saturday, so rugby season’s almost come to an end. But yeah, look. There’s always something happening. My wife’s got a little business I help her in as well, so I’m basically the driver who delivers a lot of things, and look, it’s never boring. Put it that way. 

Craig Wilson: Probably one of the most recognized drivers out there, David. 

David Campese: Yeah, exactly. 

Craig Wilson: Hey, look. Yeah, so recently I was reading in the Telegraph about Eddie Jones talking about rugby being in a power phase right now, and you listen to Ian Foster talking about picking the All Blacks on physicality, and even with their directness of their game plan particularly in that second test, just went against Australia. What’s your thoughts on the state of the game right now? 

David Campese: Yeah. It’s quite interesting that you’ve got coaches who are determining how the game should be played. You know, rugby was a very skilled… It was actually a player for all sizes, all heights, all weights. You know, Eddie Jones is… He’s obsessed with massive islander guys who just want to run over people, so I don’t understand where coaches are the ones who are determining what people want to see. You know, people in rugby around the world, we lived in South Africa. You talk to people who live in America. I’ve been to Hong Kong. I’ve been everywhere. People want to see a great game of rugby. They don’t want to see 6’5” wingers just motoring over people. They want to see the young Kolbes from the World Cup last year from South Africa, who played England in the final, and the littlest guy scored the tries. 

So, that’s what people want, you know? We had guys like Shane Williams, we have guys like that. We got 7s. If you look at 7s now, a lot of the guys, they’re all huge when they’re supposed to be about petite little guys running around, playing, stepping, and those coaches are the ones who are destroying the game, because you know, Eddie Jones is obsessed. I don’t know why. He brought this 7-in phases in when he was coaching, and he did this, and he did that, and now he’s telling everybody, “Well, we gotta change the way we play.” 

I mean, I don’t understand. Now, Foster’s only been in there for two test matches, and there’s a kind… There’s a book called Legacy by the All Blacks about their history and culture, and we saw something in the first test which I’ve never seen in my life playing. I played 29 times. An All black diving over and dropping the ball over the line. That never used to happen, you know? Yes, he’s picking these guys, but you know, there’s a reason why the All Blacks are the All Blacks, because they used to beat everybody, and they would do the simple things right. 

I think there’s a lot of pressure. The International Rugby Board have gotta realize, as well, that you know there’s countries out there, and you feel sorry for the Asians. The Asians will never get into International Rugby because first, they’re not big enough. Secondly, there’s no resources. You know, and the physicality, they wouldn’t last. So, you’re really cutting out a lot of countries if Eddie Jones want what he wants. He wants monsters. He want basic Andre the Giants, eight of those in his pack, Hulk Hogan at number nine, and that’s what he wants. If he wants that, let him go and do something else. 

You know, it’s sad when you see, because it’s a bash fest. It’s not about skill. It’s a bash fest, and that’s why we need little guys, and that’s why we need coaches to go out there and coach guys to play. One of the biggest concerns I think that Eddie doesn’t realize is that if you have a look at all the schools around the world in major rugby countries, a lot of the schools, especially in Australia, are not playing rugby. In New Zealand, there’s an article, they’re losing all the players as well. So, yes, he wants it up there, but realistically, who’s gonna play? And where you gonna get the players from? 

Craig Wilson: Yeah, and look, there’s a… Obviously Finn Russell right now is polarizing opinion, particularly in the North. One day he’s brilliant, one day he’s the worst player ever. He’s a Lions captain, then he’s never being picked again. And these are the players who really unlock defenses with how they… pretty steel wall defenses right now. They unlock defenses with their skillset, with their flair, but with their vision, and it’s a trained skill. Now, what’s your thoughts on Finn and also how can coaches like myself go out there and cultivate that? Cultivate those players? 

David Campese: Look, it’s very difficult, because you had Danny Cipriani from England, a fantastic player, but problem is coaches hate flair players, because they can’t control them. That’s why, excuse me, part of players like me, always on the wing. I was the last person to get the ball and they tried to compare me with Quade Cooper, who used to get the ball all the time. We need unpredictable players. We need something to be different. And when you are different, people will shoot you down. That’s because the coaches want control. It’s a bit like watching American football. The coach there, you got the play, they do the play. And you see the quarterback, if a guy’s not in the right position, he doesn’t know what to do or he runs it up himself. Where in rugby, you got options. You’ve gotta give the player, the flair player options. What happens is we had a guy called Quade Cooper, we had Kurtley Beale as well. And those guys struggled in Australia because all the education of rugby is, “I want you to do this. I want you do to that.” Instead of saying, “Well, if there’s a gap over there, why do you want me to run here?” Because that’s the move. 

You know, it’s just saying, “No, not really.” It’s like you coach and say, “Hey guys, that’s really good what you did, but there’s other ways to try it. I want you to try and find another way of doing it.” When you tell a kid, “I don’t want you to do that again,” you’ve lost him. 

Craig Wilson: Worst words in the world. No, yeah. 

David Campese: That’s the worst thing coaches, is that’s what you do. You’ve gotta encourage guys. Yes, they’re gonna make mistakes, but so what? You’ve got the best possible players, you’ve gotta allow these kids to play. And I think that’s what happened in American rugby over years, because your younger players don’t start until what, 14, 15? Maybe older? 

Craig Wilson: Yes. Yeah, I would say older, David, like you’re… and that’s a really great point. When they first came to… When I first came to Yale and actually a lot of my players are what they call crossover athletes over here. So, you got basketball, you’ve got they call it soccer, you’ve also got football, but it was interesting watching these players just naturally play the game, particularly the basketballers. But they’re doing passes over the head and all this and that, and I actually had to retrain my mind and go, “This is actually really a positive,” as opposed to my old English mindset going, “No, you pass the ball, you got your hand here, you got a high elbow, and you do this.” And it was like why am I coaching them the skills that they bring to this game out of them? And that was an awesome reflection point for me, and we haven’t looked back. 

David Campese: Yeah. I also think that you gotta say to the guys, “Listen, that’s a really good pass, but remember, if that goes to the ground, the opposition score. So, this is how you pass. Look, I don’t mind you doing that, but it’s gotta be not a 50-50 pass. It’s gotta be a 95% pass.” 

Craig Wilson: Yeah. Yeah. 

David Campese: And the other thing is I’ve always used, I went to Italy back in the ‘80s after the Grand Slam ’84, and that Christmas in Italy, the players said, “David,” that’s my name in Italian. “Do you want to go skiing?” I’ve never skied in my life. So, they took me to the mountains, Cortina, which is up North Italy. Took me to the top of the mountain, gave me a five minute lesson, said, “Ciao.” And I’m looking down this mountain going, “Oh, right.” So, I just flew down 100 miles an hour. And anyway, I kept on learning, and then one day I was skiing, and I saw this little three year old just go… Because kids, they’re not scared. They’re not scared. But the older they get, you get scared because, “Oh, I better not fall over. Might hurt myself.” 

That’s what I mean. The younger you get ahold of them, the younger you allow them to do things, the more they’re gonna learn. If you keep them in a box for too long and then you out leash them, they’re gonna struggle big time. And that’s where, and Australian rugby’s been the same. You know, we haven’t allowed these guys to come out because coaches want to win for their school instead of actually coaching for the future. You know, and in our private schools, we’re losing a lot of players to rugby league and all that, because the skillset’s different. We struggle big time. That’s why there’s so much pressure on the Wallabies, because they’re the national team. If they win, things start to appeal again. But it’s like that movie, that Kevin Costner, if you build it, they will come. Australia, if you play exciting rugby, people will come and watch. If you entertain them, they’ll come. If you don’t, they won’t go. You can always watch something else in Australia. 

So, it’s a very tough industry and it’s very sad that Eddie Jones and all that come out and say things that they’re looking for power. What are they trying to do? Go and play American football if they want power. This is-

Craig Wilson: Plenty of that there, yep. 

David Campese: It’s a very unique game. It’s a very unique game and these coaches are the ones who want to pick the world’s biggest guys. So, what’s gonna happen to the little guy like Kolbe? He’s what, 5 foot, probably 10, 11? Same as me? What happens to us little guys? No, out you go. Not good enough now. 

Craig Wilson: So, obviously you’re… This is a massive, passionate subject of yours, which I love, and it comes across. You’ve also got your own academy, right? 

David Campese: Yeah. 

Craig Wilson: Can you tell us more about that and what that looks like and what you’re trying to encourage within your players and also the people, just the whole environment you work with? 

David Campese: Well, my… It’s quite interesting, because when I turn up, people go, “Oh, no. Here we go. He’s gonna run them off in the dressing room.” But believe it or not, I do the simple basics. 

Craig Wilson: Right. 

David Campese: That’s all I do, because if you can’t do that, you can’t do the hard stuff. All these young kids see all these fancy passes, they want to do that, and I say, “Guys, if you can’t do the simple things, you cannot do that under pressure.” So, my academy is about coaching the coaches, so right, simple catch and pass, forget the spiral pass. It’s harder to pass. And when you do a spiral pass in rugby now, you noticed you cannot run up within about a meter of someone to pass a spiral. You’ve gotta do that three or four meters away, so therefore the opposition’s defense just drifts across the field, because you’re not actually attracting. So, if I want to run at you at 100 miles an hour and do a lateral pass, I can run up about that far. If I want to spiral a pass, I’ve gotta run about three or four meters away, because you’ve gotta catch it, cock it, and line it up. Where a lateral pass you go bang, straight away. 

That’s lost. That’s very simple stuff. So, when I do coach, which I’ve coached around the world, is simple, basic skills. The more you can do that, the more you practice, the better you get, then you can start trying a few different things. But unfortunately, they don’t do that, because as I said, you go onto Instagram. You see all these experts who are doing a spiral pass. It looks really good. I said, “You know, it looks really good,” but even the Wallaby coach, the skills coach, he used to do this pass, and he’d do this sort of pass, and I said, “Mate, in a rugby game, you’ve got movements. You can’t stand there, stop, and do that. You’ve gotta run and pass.” 

Oh, sometimes it looks good. Everyone’s doing the same. But in a game of rugby, does it really fit in? And that’s what I try and teach. If you want to, I’ve got a YouTube channel. David Campese Coaching. I’ve got all my little skills there. They’re very simple. Two-on-one, three-on-two. Just very, very simple things. But if you can master that over and over again, then you can start trying different things. I try and coach the coaches first, because they’re the ones who pass on the knowledge and they’re the ones I leave to go home, I leave them. So, if I teach them wrong, they’re gonna teach the kids wrong. 

Craig Wilson: No, that’s a great point. I was going to ask you like yeah, if you’ve got any wisdom that you can share one, with coaches, and secondly with players, because players listen to this, as well. Like who I feel like they’ve been closed in by a structure, or framework, or shape. What advice, you’ve already mentioned the coaches. What advice would you give to the players out there who are sitting there going, “Look, I want to express myself, but I understand I’ve gotta do the basics.” 

David Campese: Well, I think the most important thing is trainings you do, there’s probably seven or eight basic skills you should try and do every session, because… Just a recap, you know? And then what you do is you do a lot of contact opposition at training, because in a game, you’re up against a team. What a lot of teams do, they go train, and they train against nobody. And I don’t know if you’ve watched this, all of a sudden the opposition are there, guys go, “Oh, we better stand a couple of meters back now.” Which means you run further backwards to go forward. But that’s what they all do, because now, “Oh, there’s defense there.” 

Because at training, you normally have nobody, so the more training you’ve got, like game-related stuff, you say, “Okay, why did you do that?” “Well, I saw the gap.” I say, “Well, okay. But next time, the guy on the outside,” this is one of the biggest other problems in the game is the communication factor is very poor. Because coach has said, “This is what I want you to do.” Everybody knows their role. It was about probably three or four years ago in South Africa, the England Saxons team, which is their seconds team, were touring South Africa. And Richard Hill, who played in the World Cup 2003, I knew Richard, Danny Cipriani was playing. I know Danny. So, I said, “Can I come and watch them train?” 

For an hour and a half, they trained themselves. They knew exactly… Every position they had to be in for every move. It was just like watching, turning on a video, all right, turn it off, come back, same thing. They knew exactly what to do. So, all of a sudden, if there’s no defense there, they’re still gonna do the move, because that’s what they’re told to do. Jeremy Guscott, I think it was, said he was teaching a young guy in a bar a couple of years ago who was playing for England, and he said, “Mate, if there’s an opportunity there, if there’s a gap there, and you’re told to do a move here, what would you do?” He said, “Well, if I took the gap and I lost the ball, I’d be in trouble, so I’ll just do what I’m told to do.” 

Because that’s what coaches want. Coaches sit in the box on a walkie talkie, you know? Why… To me, coaches, if you think about the ‘80s when we played, I’ll get in trouble… Coaches were not allowed in the oval in test matches. Coaches, there’d be a ladder, come down, players used to sort the problems. Now, they go into a classroom, they sit down, there’s a whiteboard, and the coaches say, “Well, this is what we gotta do.” What are they learning? Why don’t you come in and say, “Guys, right. Tell me. What’s happened to the scrum? What’s happening? Well, fix it. How you gonna fix it?” Otherwise, they’re not gonna learn a thing. 

Craig Wilson: Yeah. Yeah, like-

David Campese: Professionalism changed attitudes. You know, yes, they’re getting paid. Everyone’s getting paid. But you’ve gotta be the best possible player. And I’m helping a young guy at the moment who was an unbelievable talent, came out of rugby, went to league, came back. Six months ago, couldn’t kick left foot at all. Kicks left foot perfectly, because to me every player in the back line, if you’re a 10 or 15, if you can kick right and left foot, you’re gonna… Skill factor’s amazing. 

Craig Wilson: Yeah. 

David Campese: And he’s playing club rugby, but he gets no feedback. He gets the negative feedback. 

Craig Wilson: No. Yeah, this is what you can’t do, or this is… Yeah. 

David Campese: Well, if that happened to me years ago, if I’d come in, if they said, “Mate, you missed a tackle.” I’d be in a looney asylum, you know? Instead of going, “Mate, great.” You never talked about the negatives. You talked about the positives. Yes, you might have missed a tackle. Yes, I might have made a mistake, it was my fault. Next time you don’t. But for coaches to always pick at the negative things, it’s not really good for the game of rugby or any person’s… what you call confidence. 

Craig Wilson: No. Yeah, absolutely. And one of the biggest things I’ve enjoyed, and also importantly what I’ve seen my players enjoy here at Yale, is that we… Most of our sessions now are what you would call games based, or games-based training. So, obviously we have a focus area, like we’re trying to achieve how do we get t he ball here in the least amount of time, or whatever scenario we decide to put in place, or we’re four points down, we’re on a game clock, we’ve got three minutes left, what do we do? I tell you what, the whole session lifts up. It’s because there’s competition. You’re playing the game. And I’ve found particularly with me dealing with newer players, it actually expedites their learning, as well, because they’re learning through the game as opposed to here’s a drill, it looks nice, it looks fluffy, we all look good. 

And as you mentioned earlier, soon as you come against opposition it goes to the shop. So, kind of coaching through games I’ve found personally being a really a valuable… It’s made me a better coach and it’s made us a better team. 

David Campese: No, definitely. I mean, the thing that’s important is that coaches, and I keep on saying coaches. When I coach them, look, I don’t care how you coach. You can coach the way you want to coach, because not everyone thinks the same. As long as the kids, the guys have got the skills to play that style of rugby, great. But you can’t play a style of rugby if you haven’t given the people the skills to play that style. Because you’re gonna get frustrated, the players are gonna get frustrated, or sometimes someone might do something different and you’re gonna say, “What’d you do that for?” It’s, “Well, I just… There was an opportunity, and I took it.” And so, that’s great for trying, but coaches don’t do that because we saw the All Black player, or I did, drop the ball over the line. He got dropped. 

As I said, I’ve never seen that in my life, an All Black do that. You know, and that’s what I mean. It’s interesting. That try, no try, gave the confidence to the Wallabies, thinking it should have been 15-3 at halftime, but it was 8-3. Big difference, you know? 

Craig Wilson: Oh, yeah. 

David Campese: One little mistake can make a big difference. 

Craig Wilson: No. Look, it was… Yeah, really some really fascinating points. Now, it’s probably a big question, but if you had a crystal ball or a magic wand, one of the two, where do you see rugby going? Can the game swing back towards an attack focus? A creativity focus? Or are we gonna be in the status quo for a while? What’s your kind of vision around that? 

David Campese: Look, it’s difficult, because it depends on the powers that be. Who runs the game? And normally it’s the coaches who are the ones who are, like Eddie’s been around for years and years and still hasn’t won a World Cup. You know, there’s another 57 teams if he wants to go and coach, but I’m just saying that you can’t keep on picking the biggest guys in the world, and that’s all they seem to do. And coaches, yes, it’s about success. Foster’s under a lot of pressure, because I believe a lot of New Zealanders didn’t like him as the coach. There’s reports of that. There’s a report in the paper about in New Zealand, there’s a lot of people not playing rugby, as well. It was an article just recently… I think it’s… The paper over there. 

So, if you happen to read about all that information, you can see that the game’s changing. Even when the All Blacks, that’s rugby, that’s their main sport. Everyone knows New Zealand because of the All Blacks. So, if that starts to dwindle a bit, and all these other countries, like America, America hasn’t been given enough money over the years to progress in their rugby. Obviously, you got American football, you got baseball, and basketball, who are gonna be… don’t want you there because it’s a very exciting sport, especially 7s. 

Craig Wilson: Yeah. 

David Campese: Right? So, I just think sometimes it’s the coaches. But they choose coaches, like we’ve got Dave Rennie, who’s the first islander I think it is to coach an international team. So, he’s tapped to go overseas, and he’s an All Black. He coached the Chiefs. But he didn’t get the job over there, you know? So, if you look at World Rugby, you’ll probably find there’s about eight or nine coaches from New Zealand. They sort of play the same style they want to play. 

France play the style of rugby, they should run the ball from underneath their goal posts. The Italians are the Italians. The Welsh used to fire the ball around, but under Gatland, they play the New Zealand style of rugby, what you’d call. You know, so every country is unique by what talent you’ve got. If you’ve got guys who can run nine seconds for 100 meters, you’re not gonna sit him on the wing and not give him the ball, are you? You’ve gotta find a way to get to them quick with space. So, that means the whole back line’s gotta have beautiful skills. So, the ball’s in front, not the ball going back here, so there’s little things that you want to play, but the players haven’t got the skills, you will never play those. Even though that’s your idea about coaching, you’ve gotta give the players the skills. The line out. All they gotta do in the line out is catch the ball. You can run around, dance, do this and that. Just catch it. 

That’s the job you want, but now everyone’s trying to be so fancy, and the amount of times now that line out throws, they drop the ball on the line out. Or stop straight. Bizarre. But that’s the little part of the game that you should do well, and if you can’t do that, how you gonna do the hard stuff? 

Craig Wilson: Yeah, and it’s interesting as well, like not always trying to mimic. As a coach, not always trying to mimic what you see at the very top end, because more often than not, it’s not necessarily applicable, and then yeah, if you could apply to what your team strengths are and work with those, I think you’re gonna be in a good place. Now, just before I let you go, there’s an interesting tournament developing over here, or actually in Bermuda, the 10s. And I know you’ll be familiar with the Hong Kong 10s, which is a huge tournament, which I was lucky enough to work there for many a year. But where’s your thoughts on first of all 10s as a format, and 7s, because I hear you talk about excitement and get engaged in the audience. Now, do those games have a place in World Rugby? 

David Campese: Yeah. Well, it used to. I think the 10s back in the day was the Fat Belly Pigs, I think for Malaysia. They were older guys, and it was more about the fun aspect of the game. Rugby, I played my first year in 1979. I played fourth grade. And I was playing with like 38-year-old, 40-year-old guys who’ve been to the top, who’ve come back and just want to have a bit of fun. And that was my best year of my rugby in my life, because if you did something right or wrong, they’d be talking to you. Do this next time, great. You know, look for that. So, that was an education into rugby. 

Now, you go to the 10s and they’re all young guys. You know, it’s not about the fun fact. It’s all gone professional. If you can do it where you’ve gotta have props, proper players, instead of just getting those young guys and off you go, I think it’s gonna be beneficial, because then all of a sudden you can get big guys, small guys, fat guys, tall guys, whatever playing. You know, but if you want to do the world’s 10s, which is like 10 young guys just to go out at the wing, instead of actually having the fun part of it and all that, which obviously is part of it, you’re looking at a different thing. 

7s in our day was test players playing 7s. We’re all test players. The world would come and watch Serge Blanco play. Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh, Tim Horan, Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen. 

Craig Wilson: Wow. Yeah. 

David Campese: All those players. Now you go there, no one knows who they are because they’re not test players, they’re guys who come up through the system and you go there every year and you see an Australian supporter and said, “Do you know any of the players?” “No, I’m just here supporting Australia.” So, we’ve lost that connection. The 10s, look, it’s a great idea, but yeah, look, I just think the more opportunity to play rugby and different sports, or different levels, 10s, 7s, or 15s, mate, it just promotes the game around the world. 

Craig Wilson: Now, last question, all right, so you talked about Hong Kong 7s. Have you been in the South Stand? Can you remember it? Any good stories? 

David Campese: Yes, I can remember the South Stands. Yes, never been in it. Last couple of years I’ve walked around underneath it overnight… but there’s not too many sober women and men there at that time. There was a guy called Mark Andrews who was a Springbok lock, would have been about two, three years ago, and this is when I was living in South Africa, and I saw him there at the tournament. Anyway, it was probably about three or four weeks later. I said, “Mate, how was Hong Kong? How was the 7s?” He said, “Mate,” he said, “Unbelievable.” He said, “On that Sunday,” he said, “I went to the South Stand. I didn’t watch one game of rugby.” He said, “I don’t even know who won the tournament. That’s why you go to the South Stand. You go there just to party, to dress up, and have a great time and no one remembers a thing.” 

Craig Wilson: Oh, yeah. 

David Campese: That’s why I would never go there. 

Craig Wilson: Yeah. I could talk from experience that I’ve seen it from the outside and I kind of remember it from the inside, but yeah, what a… It’s one of the great spectacles of rugby, really. But look, David, really appreciate your time today. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me and the listeners, and yeah, we look forward to hearing your commentary on the future of the game, because you’ve always got an awesome point to share. 

David Campese: Mate, if you need any help, call me over. Love to come over and teach your guys a few things about the game. 

Craig Wilson: I think I would like to see David Campese at Yale University, as well. Let’s make that happen. 

David Campese: Yeah. Definitely. Love to. 

Craig Wilson: So, there you are. What a great, great show with David Campese. Never shy to share his opinion. His passion comes across. Real fun interview. Thanks for listening to the Rugby Wisdom Podcast. If you want to catch up on previous episodes and all my analysis work, visit www.TheContactCoach.com.