Hong Kong Sevens

Campo returns: Expect the unexpected

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2008, 12:00am

The man with the golden goose step will be back at the Hong Kong Stadium next week. David Campese laughs when his famous hitch-kick, which left countless opponents grasping at thin air, is mentioned. You can almost see his smile as the mobile telephone crackles with static. He is driving through Durban, South Africa.

'Yes, it is indeed golden, I have to dust the cobwebs off it,' says Campese, as he looks forward to renewing his love affair with the world's most famous sevens tournament.

Campo, as he is universally known, won't be playing, though. He will be on the touchline assisting Australian sevens coach Bill Millard, who seemed apprehensive at the idea of having a legend watching over his shoulders.

'I have never met him. I'm not sure about Campo as I have not seen him coach at all,' says Millard. 'But, for sure, he will be a mentor to the guys and hopefully will be able to have some input on our attack.'

In a move which must have caused some consternation among other teams on the IRB Sevens, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) this month announced they had appointed Wallabies legends Campese and Mark Ella to assistant coaching roles for the next two legs of the series - Hong Kong and Adelaide.

'David and Mark are two of the greatest players this country has produced,' said ARU chief executive John O'Neill. 'The skills they possessed set them apart during their illustrious careers and now they have the chance to impart some of that unique knowledge to the current generation.'

Campese was the perfect fit for Hong Kong, while Ella will handle Adelaide. Campo is thrilled. Although he now lives in South Africa, he was game for his first Australia coaching post.

'This is like a dream for me. I've always wanted the opportunity to be involved again with Australian rugby and to help out in Hong Kong - a place that has so many memories for me after playing sevens for more than a decade. It is an honour. I feel I can make a contribution,' Campese said.

Campo, 45, is part of the legend surrounding the Hong Kong Sevens. He says it was at the old Government Stadium that he perfected that goose step.

'It was in Hong Kong that it all really started for me, although I had already played for the Wallabies in 1982. I came the following year to Hong Kong for the Sevens. I thought it was a junket, but this tournament gave me the chance to show off my individual skills. It gave me the confidence and self-belief which helped my game,' he revealed.

It was in 1983 that the New Zealand Rugby Football Union sent a representative side to the Hong Kong Sevens for the first time. The Police hit Every Breath You Take was number one on the charts.

A 20-year-old Campo took the crowd's breath away as he dazzled his way past opponents, including Fiji in the Cup final. Australia won 14-4 (a try was worth four points) and Campo and company celebrated to the strains of Waltzing Matilda.

'The most important thing to me then, and even now, is to go out and have a good time. If you don't enjoy playing rugby, then don't play at all. Don't even bother to come. This is what I will be telling the guys when I meet them,' says Campese.

Possessed with immense talent, great acceleration and a sidestep and swerve to die for, Campese was also fortunate to have a natural stutter-step, a change of pace, which caught would-be tacklers off their guard. It earned him rich rewards in an illustrious Wallaby career that ran from 1982 to 1996.

He won 101 caps for Australia, the first Wallaby centurion, and scored a record 64 tries, before Japanese winger Daisuke Ohata overtook him. But for many fans, Campo's effort will always be the true benchmark of greatness for his tries were scored against the world's best.

'I always tried my best,' says Campese. 'I was fortunate to have the goose step. I wasn't born with it, but I just had it. I never practised it, or trained for it. It was just my individuality.'

Hong Kong Sevens fans in the 80s were fortunate to see Campese at his peak. He also figured in the Cup-winning teams in 1985 and 1988 - the last time Australia won in Hong Kong.

'Tell me about it mate. It has been a long time since we have tasted victory,' says Campese whose last appearance as a player was in 1998, when another player with a goose-step, Waisale Serevi, out-kicked his way past the master who had the heart but not the legs in the Cup quarter-finals.

Campo's love affair as a player had ended after 12 appearances. But his life-long commitment to Hong Kong would continue as he became a strong advocate for a world series with Hong Kong playing a major part. He liked the Sevens because it was an event which mirrored, at least in those days, everything he stood for - unfettered ambition where individual skills were what mattered.

We remind him it is not so these days where the game is more about structured defences than unalloyed talent. He tartly replies: 'The biggest problem today is that players have become robots.'

His critics might say it was this relaxed attitude to the game which got Campese into hot water on more than one occasion. Memories of that try which gifted the British Lions victory in the 1989 series comes to mind - Campese trying to run the ball from behind his own line, throwing a pass to Wallaby fullback Greg Martin who was caught napping to allow Lions winger Ieuan Evans to fall on the ball and score the try which cost Australia the series.

Was it an unmitigated error or was it simply a case of a genius being misunderstood? Campese's fans will say his vision of the game was sometimes too much for the players around him to cope with. They say if Martin had caught the ball, Australia might have been able to counter-attack and score.

Whatever the case, one thing was guaranteed. When Campo was on the field, something was always bound to happen. You expected to see the unexpected.

Wallaby wonder

David Campese won this number of caps for Australia: 101

Try as he might

He scored a test record number of tries before Japanese winger Daisuke Ohata overtook him: 64

Crowd favourite

The mercurial winger delighted Hong Kong Sevens fans a dozen times: 12

Years in wilderness

Australia have not won in Hong Kong for 20 years - something Campo aims to change: 1988