Australian rugby legend David Campese will be in the Capital this week banging the drum for a return to more individuality in the game.
The 101 times capped Campese, pictured below, who scored 64 Test tries and was the first to reach the half-century mark at Test level, will take the opportunity to address fund-raisers for Edinburgh Accies and the Bill McLaren Foundation to say the Union code he graced is now paying the price for putting too much emphasis on defence during the professional era.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, 49-year-old Campese, who will conduct a coaching clinic for youngsters at Raeburn Place as well as addressing the “Long Lunch” at Prestonfield House on Friday, said: “Bill McLaren was one of the greatest. It’s a shame he is not still around but he would also be disappointed with what he was seeing.
“Bill loved his rugby. He loved commentating on people who were different. Unfortunately he would find it very difficult to comprehend what is happening in the game because of the way it is being played, the way the rules have been changed.
“No one is prepared to try anything. People are running at a brick wall.
“(Rugby) League people are involved in defence . . . and we have to get rid of them. You get everyone in the rucks trying to win ball and nobody out in the backs who can play.
“If you can’t do the basics you can’t do anything else.
“It was great when rugby went pro and coaches were drawn from rugby league to work on defence but the knock-on effect has meant guys like (Wallaby stand-off) Quade Cooper coming out in Australia and saying how bored he is. You can see the players are not happy.”
Campese claims part of the problem is the repetitive nature of the fixture scheduling.
“You get South Africa, New Zealand and Australia playing each other six times in one year.
“Because of this they have won six World Cups out of seven; they are used to competition whereas other teams struggle when pressure is on.”
Critical of refereeing inconsistencies and laws that give the whistler too much influence, Campese added: “Interpretations from referees in Europe allow players to play the ball on the ground whereas in the southern hemisphere they don’t.
“Referees have such a big influence on the game (but) who is going to address it?”
Campese reserves his strongest criticism for current Test players, particularly those back home.
“In Test match rugby today its another job, another game and other training session. They haven’t got the passion we had.
“We enjoyed playing; we wanted to be good. Now in Australia we have five Super rugby sides and we can’t sustain three. There are no players and the players who are there are out of their depth.”
There is a bright future for rugby, though, Campese reckons, if youngsters are encouraged to be more creative.
“What I try to do is coach kids because kids can change. If you look at trying to change the old guard they can’t change.
“I coach a lot of kids from seven to 14. All we do is very simple basic skills which a lot of first division players can’t do.”