'It's the last time,' vows Aussie legend Campese

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 1997, 12:00am

Fourteen years after first goose-stepping on to a swamp-like Hong Kong Stadium pitch, Australian David Campese will take his final bow in the green and gold jersey.

Yes, we've heard that before. But Campese is certain that this time, it's for real.

The 34-year-old has always always rated the Hong Kong Sevens as the unofficial World Cup and is pleased that the territory is finally playing host to the official Rugby World Cup Sevens this weekend.

Since making his debut in 1983, Campese has been part of three winning Australian sides and was voted Best and Fairest Player in 1988, when the Aussies defeated New Zealand 13-12 in the final.

But the veteran of 101 Test matches and scorer of a world record 64 Test tries has fond memories of the 1983 tournament - his debut year, when the pitch at the old Hong Kong Stadium looked like a paddy field because of the heavy rain.

'That was probably my favourite year,' said Campese. 'The pitch was just so muddy, but we played really well and won the tournament.

'A lot of people talk about the 1992 tournament when Fiji won it, saying it was really muddy.

'It was, but not as muddy as the 1983 event.' It was also the first time Hong Kong fans were able to see his famous goose-step, which he had first revealed to the world the previous year against New Zealand.

Campese first 'retired' from the Hong Kong Sevens after the 1993 tournament, won by Western Samoa.

However, an injury during the early stages had ruled him out for most of the tournament and he felt dissatisfied.

He returned the following year as captain, vowing to see out the whole tournament.

He fulfilled his wish as Australia produced their best performance since 1988, knocking out defending champions Western Samoa with a sudden-death Campese penalty before losing to a Jonah Lomu-led New Zealand in the final.

This year, however, Campese vows will be his last.

'I'm 34 now and I think it will definitely be my last time here,' said Campese, who earlier this year retired from Test rugby.

He revealed that, two months ago, he didn't think that he would be part of the Australian World Cup team because of his commitments to New South Wales' Super 12 campaign.

'I asked New South Wales in January and they said that I would not be available for the World Cup,' said Campese, who was part of the Australian team defeated by England in the 1993 World Cup final at Murrayfield, Edinburgh.

'But after some negotiating with the governing body, they agreed to release me,' said Campese.

'The last time I played for Australia we reached the final at Murrayfield.' Campese is hoping that 'the best tournament in the world', the Hong Kong Sevens, continues to be successful when it returns to the calendar next year.

But he agrees it will be harder for the leading players to compete in the territory because of commitments to other international events and the increasing demands of the professional game.