Major clubs: ACT, Padova, Randwick, NSW, Milan
Test span: 1982-96
Test caps: 101 (100 starts)
Test points: 315 (64T, 8C, 7P, 2DG)
Rugby’s Greatest: David Campese
The son of a wine-making Italian immigrant, David Campese has managed to upset almost everyone because of his truculence and outspoken views. The game is no worse for that.
His distaste for ‘bash and recycle’ rugby is unsurprising when you consider the running skills and devil-may-care attitude with which he burnished the Test stage 101 times. It occasionally left him with egg on his face but 64 Test tries tells its own story. It was a record for a Tier One player for years, until being overtaken by South Africa’s Bryan Habana (67 in 124 Tests).
At his best Campese was utterly unstoppable, his weaving in-and-out runs and mesmerising footwork illuminating the final decade of amateurism. He was a mean kicker of a ball too, but above all it was his desire to attack from all areas of the pitch that scared opponents witless.
Brought up on league in ACT, Campese switched codes and burst into global consciousness during the 1984 European tour that yielded a Wallaby Grand Slam.
By RWC 1991 he was at the peak of his powers and two celebrated runs – one arrow-straight, the other mischievously mazy – accounted for the All Blacks on the way to lifting the trophy.
He was arguably the first World Cup superstar, because his individual brilliance followed a 1987 New Zealand triumph based more on collective efficiency. “He was allowed the freedom to run at will,” said fellow great Gerald Davies.
The onus on increased physical power, as rugby careered towards professionalism, worked against Campese, who was heavier (by 10kg) and slower by the 1995 World Cup.
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In October 1996 he became only the second Test centurion – behind Frenchman Philippe Sella – when facing Italy in Padua, close to where his father was born. The same year he nearly accepted an offer to join Saracens.
He is officially deemed rugby union’s 71st professional player. Yet the tag makes him smile because, long before rugby went open, he played for many years in Italy during off-seasons – and he was certainly well rewarded for his trouble.