After watching England beat Scotland in a tryless and dreary semi-final, Campese got under the host nation’s skin by stating in the build-up to the Twickenham final that he wouldn’t play for England even if he was paid a lot of money to do so (remember it was still the amateur era then). He also said that if he played for England he would also insist on playing flyhalf as then he would at least get to touch the ball. He further said “Playing that boring stuff is a good way to destroy the image of the game”.
It was probably because of Campese’s criticisms (he was not alone but he was the most vocal) that England changed their entire approach in the final, forsaking the forward, percentage orientated rugby that had got them that far and embarking on what ultimately proved a suicidal policy of running the ball. Campese did not score in that final, but he had made his mark before then, with the tournament being remembered as the pinnacle of a celebrated career.
Campese scored twice against Argentina, once against Wales, twice again against Ireland before producing one of the most memorable tries in World Cup history in the semi-final against New Zealand. The score came in the 12th minute and set Australia on the path to that nation’s most important rugby victory in their history up to that point, drifting in from the wing to take the ball as first receiver from a ruck before turning his feared opponent John Kirwan inside out.
It was not Campese’s only big moment of the game, however, and some have an even better recollection of him running onto a Michael Lynagh chip kick and, with two defenders closing in, throwing a backward pass over his shoulder that fell safely into the hands of Wallaby centre Tim Horan, who was up in support and was able to score the try. Although most commentators felt it was a lucky pass as he couldn’t possibly have known that Horan was there, Campo, as he was known, later boasted “I knew Tim was there, I was just trying to suck the winger in and the next thing I knew I was looking up the ground to see Tim putting the ball down.”
Campese had often been blighted by mistakes that had cost his team, and many of them because of the sort of daring that he showed in that game, but there was no denying he was a hugely talented player so it was fitting that his sense of adventure should be rewarded during the grandest rugby tournament of all and with the world watching.
In the inaugural World Cup in 1987 in New Zealand, Campese was not so successful, and his tournament was marred by injury problems. However he did score a try in the losing semi-final against France. By 1995 when the RWC came to South Africa, Campese, like some of the other Wallaby stalwarts of 1991, was past his best, and the memory of him from that tournament will, for most South Africans anyway, always include Pieter Hendricks in the picture frame, the Bok left wing pointing his finger and waving in celebration as he rounded the famous Wallaby.
He played 101 times for his country in an international career that encompassed 14 years, spanning the period 1982 to 1996, and he scored 315 points.