Campese returning home and wants to save Australia rugby

After the best part of 10 years abroad, ostracised from the country where he became a national hero, David Campese is returning home and wants to help save Australian rugby.

The "Don Bradman of rugby", as grand slam-winning Wallabies coach Alan Jones refers to him as, has lived in Durban for more than a decade and helped out South African rugby, notably as a consultant to the Sharks.

Fairfax Media can reveal Campese, who played 101 Tests for the Wallabies from 1982 to 1996, met with Australian Rugby Union high performance boss Ben Whitaker this week to discuss some potential ways he can get involved in the future.

Former Wallaby and the ARU's new head of special projects, Rod Kafer, was also at the meeting and no doubt he and Whitaker will be doing everything they can to get Campese involved.

Campese is a polarising figure; a man never afraid to speak his mind and it was this trait that rubbed some people the wrong way in Australian rugby when he hung up the boots.

"John O'Neill never liked me because I was always outspoken ??? I would drive a BMW when Ford were the sponsor," Campese told Fairfax Media. "When people don't like certain people, there's nowhere to go. That's just the way I was.

"I'm coming back next year and I want to get involved down the line somewhere.

"Over the years there's been a lot of ups and downs and I just think there's a lot of people out there who love the game but we haven't been contacted or they are not really sure what's happening. There doesn't seem to be much of a plan for the next four or five years where the Wallabies want to be or where Australian rugby wants to be."

Campese has brought his family, including his three children (Sienna, Jason and Mercedes) to Sydney to look at schools and expects to move back to Australia full-time in January.

The 54-year-old, who still holds the record for the most tries scored by a Wallaby, is full of ideas on how to revive Australian rugby after a period of decline following the 2015 Rugby World Cup and says it begins at the grassroots level.

"If you look at some of the teams they're not playing exciting rugby, we all play the same," Campese said. "We haven't got the great skills to have the confidence like we used to.

"One recent Wallaby couldn't pass from left to right. It's ridiculous you can't do that as an international player.

"I just love coaching the younger kids. If you can get those young kids coming through, with some ex-players invited and you can promote the game and make it fun, things can change.

"Mark Ella, I've spoken to him. Stephen Hoiles, he's with the Classic Wallabies. There's a lot of guys who would love to be involved.

"The game has changed, training methods have changed but skill factor hasn't. You can bring back some of the ways of playing the game, so why can't guys kick right and left foot? I was a winger and could do that. Why aren't these guys being taught to step and swerve and back themselves?"

One of the first two things Campese would do is promote rugby at public schools and ban club rugby players from being paid.

"Why haven't we gone to the government schools and said: 'Who wants to play at an Olympic Games'?" Campese said. "We sit there and expect everyone to play rugby. Sometimes you've got to go out there looking for it.

"And I don't think anyone should get paid at club rugby. You're there because it's a stepping stone. We didn't get paid at Randwick. If you get a [Super Rugby] contract, great, because you are there to enjoy the game."

Campese has also been in contact with former Randwick teammate and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

"I've spoken to Cheik and he's got ideas but he's got more important things on at the moment," Campese said. "He's got a big job and I don't think he should be worrying about other things like who is coming through the system. He needs to know he is getting players that are skilled up and can do things he wants them to do."

This story Campese returning home and wants to save Australia rugby first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.