English rugby's loudest critic takes the walkabout of shame

David Campese, the Australian rugby player, is not the kind of man you would expect readily to eat humble pie. But yesterday was an exception.

The former star of the antipodean side, who was a consistent critic of the English team that won the World Cup, marched down Oxford Street, wearing a huge sandwich board bearing the slogan: "I admit, the best team won!"

A broad grin on his face, Campese made his way through the crowds of pre-Christmas shoppers, enduring some predictable comments from those he passed and barracking from motorists and cab drivers, who whistled and tooted their horns at him.

The stunt was the work of Ladbrokes, the bookmakers, who had asked rugby fans which forfeit they would like Campese to take up if England won the tournament.

In extensive punditry for television and newspaper coverage of the World Cup, Campese became legendary for his negative view of the English team. He repeatedly predicted that England, who many considered favourites to win, would fail and asserted that France or New Zealand would probably take the Web Ellis Trophy.

Campese took his punishment with good humour. Offered a late breakfast of a pie made from kangaroo meat and Australian red wine, he said: "I'll eat some humble pie later."

Campese, who was part of the Australian side that beat England in the 1991 World Cup final, admitted afterwards: "It was pretty scary and the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done in my life.''

He conceded that his judgement during the World Cup had been "pretty poor", adding: "At the end of the day, England were the best team. They were very, very determined. Throughout the tournament they performed when it counted. I don't mind being proved wrong. I've always said that. I think it's great the World Cup has moved up to the northern hemisphere. Rugby has been dominated by the southern hemisphere but it's a global game and I hope that England go on to promote it at the grass-roots level."

But Campese, to show that the Australian competitive spirit remained undimmed, carried another slogan on the back of the sandwich board: "3/1 we'll get it off you next time!"

Ladbrokes.com are giving Campese £3,000 to fund a bet on Saturday's game between England and the New Zealand Barbarians, with winnings going to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital.

As of yesterday morning, he was making no predictions as to who might win.

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