With 64 tries in 101 Tests, David Campese was for years the record try-scorer among the leading nations. But mere stats can't do justice to this coruscating Australian talent
Major clubs: ACT, Padova, Randwick, NSW, Milan
Test span: 1982-96
Test caps: 101 (100 starts)
Test points: 315 (64T, 8C, 7P, 2DG)
The son of a wine-making Italian immigrant, Australian 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.
The onus on increased physical power, as rugby careered towards professionalism, worked against Campese, who was heavier (by 10kg) and slower by RWC 1995.
In October 1996 he became only the second Test centurion – behind 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.