David Campese exclusive: ‘Bloody awful’ All Blacks to fall in quarter-finals

James While
Wallabies legend David Campese and All Blacks fullback Beauden Barrett - Rugby World Cup

David Campese runs through the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup.

Wallabies legend David Campese reacted to the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup with a close eye on the performances of the fly-halves.

The World Rugby Hall of Famer takes a brief look back at past World Cups, highlighting the importance of the number 10s and “owning the scoreboard”.

In his second exclusive with Planet Rugby, ‘Campo’ dissects the performances of the fly-halves in the close encounters, as well as where some teams fell short and others didn’t.

The 1991 World Cup winner also pinpoints where the All Blacks are falling short and makes a bold prediction for Australia’s trans-Tasman rivals.

Importance of 10s

“The importance of number 10s at Rugby World Cups can’t be overstated,” he told Planet Rugby.

“If you look back over the history of the tournament, we’ve seen Grant Fox ’87, Michael Lynagh ’91, Joel Stransky ’95, Stephen Larkham ’99, Jonny Wilkinson ’03 and ’07 and so on to Handre Pollard in 2019.

“In 1999 and 2007, the focus might also include two brilliant kicking full-backs in Matt Burke and Percy Montgomery, but my point remains – points on the board are all important in this tournament, and it makes no odds where they come from.

“Rugby changes at World Cups. You don’t have the space; teams are at peak fitness and sharp in structure, so owning the scoreboard is crucial, and teams rise to the occasion, so tries are at a premium between the big sides.

“I wanted to cover four of the best displays I’ve seen in the fly-half shirt this weekend and highlight a couple that weren’t so good.”

Ford focus

He continued: “I was pretty surprised by the way England turned themselves around to control the game against Argentina, and George Ford gave us an absolute masterclass of winning rugby at fly-half where his influence was absolutely huge. He thrived, running the show without Owen Farrell overshadowing him, and I was delighted for someone I consider a world-class player.

“With Farrell on his way back, Steve Borthwick has a real problem on his hands. His centres went well, and Ford was brilliant. And if Owen comes back, where the hell do you play him?

“Now, I know Faz and Fordy go back years and years to childhood, but if I were running the show at out-half, the last thing I’d want is someone competing for the leadership voice.

“Ford had complete clarity in what he did; he realised that’s the shortest pitch in test rugby, and when England, rather predictably, failed to really challenge the line, he found a way to win, and I applaud that. Would he have been able to execute that with conflicting leadership voices? I am not so sure he would.

“You then have the issues of the centres. Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant are a balanced partnership; Marchant defends that 13 corner brilliantly, and if Faz comes in, it’s at Joe’s expense, with Manu moving out one where his ‘D’ isn’t as effective.

“If I were Borthwick, I’d stick with what I have because it worked, and England have something to build on from that. And, importantly, leaving Farrell out takes away the worry of scrutiny of referees and allows Fordy that freedom to run the game. You can go 5/3 on the bench and have both Marcus Smith and Owen there, as they offer two totally different things.”

Jalibert’s influence

Campese added: “I’ve covered Ford’s display, but a lot has been made of Romain Ntamack’s injury for France. Up steps Matthieu Jalibert and delivers an absolute worldy of a second-half performance. That break and carry for the line to set up the Damian Penaud try was top drawer – true pace and vision.

“It was the perfect example of playing what’s in front of you and blow me down, but he was actually scanning the All Blacks to see where the gaps were rather than playing a structure by predetermination.

“New Zealand were bloody awful, save for a couple of well-taken tries from Mark Telea. At one point, they were so lateral I was wondering if the groundsman had marked the pitch lines out the wrong way around!

“Perhaps there’s confusion between Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett in the same manner I suggested with Ford and Farrell? Certainly, the big plays came from Barrett, but even then, there was a huge lack of direct go-forward, something that’s unusual in New Zealand rugby.

“This was the first pool game they’ve lost out of 31 in World Cup history. The simple truth is that their first-choice players are way ahead of their reserves, and they missed the go-forward of Jordie Barrett and Shannon Frizell hugely. I hate to say this, but right now, they’re not at the races, and with the guns of Ireland and South Africa in their half of the draw, they’ll struggle to progress past the quarters.”

Wales and Fiji

The Wallaby great continued: “Sticking with my theme of 10s, Dan Biggar is the sort of bloke you’d want on your teams. Sure, his spray against a few of his teammates might have raised some eyebrows, but that’s what you want from your leaders – don’t leave people wondering.

“Biggar’s played 100 Tests with some of his teammates, and he’s got every right to let rip when he needs to. But elsewhere, it was his commitment and belief that took Wales home, combined with great goal-kicking, something Fiji failed to do in a match separated by a score.

“Ironically, with Caleb Muntz, Fiji’s usual fly-half, out injured, Teti Tela took over, and his management of the latter stages led to his side coughing it up as the pass to Semi Radradra cost Fiji the game. I get so frustrated at players who don’t look at what they have in front of them in terms of the opposition defence, and he was culpable of doing exactly that.

“Sure, the long miss pass was poorly executed, but for starters, he should have been the one throwing it. Instead, he was stood behind the ruck, completely out of the action and ball-watching. It was then given to the man mountain Josua Tuisova, who threw the Hail Mary pass, but where the hell was the short pass to Waisea Nayacalevu in the 13 channel? He was dead certain walking in under the posts off the easy option, and whilst Semi Radradra was in tears for his error, the bigger one was allowing a battering centre to take the play-making role – again, a result of not looking at where the gaps are in front of him and playing a training ground move over and above reacting to the situation.

“The 10s in the world take control of the game-defining moments, and Tela was happy to shift that responsibility. Would Muntz have done the same? I doubt it.

“Make no mistake, Wales were heroic in defence, but Fiji only have themselves to blame for not winning a game they dominated in attack and at the breakdown.”

He added: “Elsewhere, another 10 who caught my eye was the ageless Johnny Sexton. He was peerless against Romania, grabbing a couple for himself but also working brilliantly with Bundee Aki in the centres. Ireland have a lot of structure from playing together so much, but again, Sexton adapted to what was in front of him, the mark of a great 10.

“Make no mistake; this World Cup is going to be close at the top end of the pools and knockout stages, and yet again, it’s going to be the influence of the great fly-halves that will settle a lot of the scores.”

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup Team of the Week: Nine countries represented in our line-up