Peter Bills: South African test matches prove Campese wisdom

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David Campese is a maverick but I’m proud to say he’s a mate of mine. He’s perceived as a loud mouth who shoots off his views ad nauseum and it’s true, he’d sometimes have been better off keeping his own counsel.

But the real Campese is a world away from the public perception. He was a genius of a rugby player and he knows a hell of a lot about the game he graced.

Campese said a week or two back that it could take years to change completely the South African rugby psyche to fit the enterprising attacking style favoured by Peter de Villiers. A lot of people didn’t take much notice but the Test matches in Cape Town and Durban in the past 10 days have proved the wisdom of Campo’s words.

Springbok after Springbok20 in action at Absa stadium Durban last Saturday confirmed his theory. Bismarck du Plessis, who had squandered a 4-1 overlap at Newlands by going it alone, again tucked the ball under his arm and sought confrontation, ignoring propitious opportunities further out. Schalk Burger did exactly the same, and both he and Jean de Villiers constantly die with the ball rather than off-loading.

At times, it looks as though certain players in the team won’t pass to certain others. And always, there is this gleam in their eye when they see an opponent approaching. No thought is given to the subtlety of taking the contact the moment the ball is transferred, thereby taking out of the game the opponent. Instead, that age old South African rugby mentality of eagerly crunching into the opposition, testing their ‘cojones’, continues to reign supreme.

None of this mattered in the Jake White era. Indeed, it was encouraged. But now that South Africa has a new coach who embraces a completely different philosophy, it should be as dead as a dinosaur. Yet it isn’t.

Week by week, Test by Test, South Africa’s macho rugby men are proving Campese correct. At this rate, it will take years to get them out of their lifelong habits. And the grim news for Peter de Villiers is that even the next generation, the younger ones to whom he might turn, have been brought up steeped in this approach.

What de Villiers has attempted to do has been naïve. In 1991, the wily Campese managed to persuade England to abandon their forward orientated approach in favour of a 15 man attacking game. It wasn’t a very important match in which they decided to launch this bold new future – only the World Cup final.

The result then was similar to the Springboks’ efforts these past two weekends: chaos and defeat. Funny how the wheel turns.