David Campese: 'We've had boards who have not been accountable - We haven't got a culture of rugby'

Australia are now looking to rebuild after a tumultuous World Cup period
©World Rugby Collection

David Campese, a World Cup winner in 1991 with 101 caps and 64 tries, was a man renowned for his flair for the dramatic and believes the sport now needs reinvigoration.

Beginning by speaking about Australia off the back of their disastrous 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign in which they failed to progress to the knockouts for the first-ever time, Campese thinks Australian rugby has become stale because of its hiring process.

However, one such hire recently became a fire with controversial chairman Hamish McLennan ousted after lengthy discussions within the Australian board concluded that there was a lack of 'trust or faith in his leadership'.

Campese will no doubt have agreed with this decision as he believed McLennan was a fish out of water: "He doesn't know anything about rugby, he's an advertisement," said Campese speaking on behalf of BettingSites.co.uk.

"It's interesting because these guys get in boards, but they've got no idea about the game. He was the one who said; 'I made the decision [to hire Eddie Jones]' because he didn't think that we were going to get to the quarter-finals. Well, we didn’t anyway.

"I think at the moment, of everyone on the Australian board, there's only one person that played rugby. They're not accountable."

McLennan has been replaced by former Wallaby Daniel Herbert. In contrast to McLennan, Herbert has a considerable rugby background, having been capped 67 times for Australia between 1994-2002. His first task will be a monumental one: replacing Eddie Jones.

Jones’ hiring, after being sacked by England in December 2022, was of course a poor decision by McLennan, but Campese believes the timing of Jones' return - which cost the embattled Rugby Australia chairman his job - was not the main issue.

"I think Eddie made a mistake - he should've come back and got a couple of people involved and said; 'Mate, what's the state of Australian rugby?' to understand.

"I think it was very sad at the airport how he [Jones] ripped into journalists before he left. I didn’t think that was the best thing to do because the journalists are the ones who write about the game.

"Unfortunately we've had boards who have not been accountable for things, and we haven't got a culture of rugby."

With a new man in charge boasting rugby pedigree and relative youth, Herbert, aged 49, is eight years McLennan’s junior. Campese’s wish for an injection of fresh influence could come true.

"I look at the set-up and go; 'Why are all these old people still involved? The game is a young game, we need young guys," he says.

"It's getting to a stage now where I don't know why Agustín Pichot didn't get the president when he was the vice president of World Rugby. We've got to move on. It's a professional sport."

Boasting experience in both the amateur and professional eras of the game, Herbert looks to be ticking the boxes of the legendary winger. The biggest tick, in terms of replacing Jones, is hiring a man who, like Herbert, comes from within. In Dave Rennie, they had their first-ever foreign coach and Jones arrived after 14 years out of the country.

"I think some people who get on boards, they don't actually understand about the history, or the culture of the Wallabies," Campese adds. "We've won two World Cups with Australian coaches, why do we have to go and get New Zealanders? Do you think South Africa would employ an Australian rugby coach? No. The Kiwis? No.

"Dave Rennie [a New Zealander] came from overseas in Glasgow, brought all his mates with him, no idea about Australian rugby. All the good coaches had to go overseas, like Eddie. What's happened now is that even the coaches in Australia, they haven't won anything. We haven't got a system where we're actually bringing the coaches through or are taught by experienced coaches, and that's the other big problem. There's no planning ahead."

Campese, who has been coaching at grassroots level for the past five years, is firm on Australia’s other problem areas too. Indeed, he thinks they are symptomatic of the sport as a whole.

"We’ve got young guys coming through the system, but we keep on getting these rugby league guys involved. Why do we get rugby league guys involved? They've never played rugby union.

"We had a guy called Mick Byrne who was with the All Blacks, was an AFL player, never played rugby. He came to Australia as a skills coach when we were third in the world, he left when we were seventh! But he gets another job!

"It's because rugby league has such an influence. We've got all these rugby league coaches that spend more time on defence than attack."

Known throughout his career as one of the sport’s greatest showmen, Campese also speaks with passion about rugby’s declining entertainment value.

"The semis and the final [of the recent World Cup], the entertainment was very poor. The rugby was unbelievable because it was close. I really think rugby has really got to understand that if you want to be an entertainment sport, you've got to start stopping with this TMO rubbish and showing it on TV. The demographics of people have changed, there's more social media. We've got to make it entertaining."

However, he does believe Australia, at the dawn of its new era, can lead change from the front. Amidst news that the Six Nations might become the final regular international tournament in the UK to go behind the paywall, he warns of the perils of inaccessible rugby

"That's our problem in Aus, people can watch something else on free-to-air TV. We're not on free-to-air TV. That's the biggest concern. I've been coaching here since 2018, and I've coached kids around Aus and no one knows who a Wallaby is."

Nonetheless, with the British and Irish Lions touring in 2025, the Rugby World Cup secured in Australia for 2027, and the Olympics in 2032, the sport can re-announce itself Down Under.

"Because of rugby league and AFL, they've got so much free-to-air TV, we've got to get out there and actually promote," concludes Campese. "We've got the unique opportunity of 7s, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games. RL and AFL will never go to those. We have got something different, so we've got to try and emphasise the opportunities."