The man who made the Wallabies No. 11 jersey famous around the world has challenged Marika Koroibete to take his game to another level again, after the winger’s brilliant man-of-the-match showing in Adelaide last weekend.
Rugby World Cup winner and 101-Test Wallabies great David Campese was full of praise for Koroibete after his performance in the 25-17 win over the Springboks, despite having his own concerns with the try-saving tackle that has divided the rugby world.
But what there is no conjecture over is Koroibete’s exponential improvement over the past few years, with the winger taking his game to new heights year on year, adding a kicking game and improving his positional play after first making the switch from rugby league in 2016.
“He’s getting a helluva lot better, I was worried about the last couple of years and back to the Rugby World Cup in 2019 he wasn’t quite there yet, that he still had a few things to learn coming from rugby league,” Campese told ESPN.
“When Australia played England in the quarterfinal and the prop [Kyle Sinckler] scored next to the posts, if Koroibete was doing his job and covering he wouldn’t have scored, that was a bit of a hangover from rugby league.
“And there was another instance earlier in the year against England when he was out of position, but that covering tackle on the weekend was amazing. His determination was brilliant and his work rate now for a winger puts him right up there among the best in the world.”
Stand-in Wallabies skipper James Slipper described Koroibete as the “hardest trainer” he’d ever seen, a trait he clearly hasn’t dropped since his move to Japan.
Koroibete is the first name on the Wallabies team sheet every week and has made the No. 11 jersey his own, but Campese wants to see more from him yet, or at least that the Wallabies find ways to create more opportunities for their star winger so that he can get one-on-one with opposition players, just as he did in Adelaide on the weekend.
“I think he’s a bit more relaxed because he knows the game a bit better now,” Campese added. “But for me, the Wallabies are still wasting him, they need to get him more one-on-one opportunities – just as they did on the weekend in Adelaide when he went round [Handre] Pollard. As a winger, you don’t want four guys in front of you – they’ve got to get him more one-on-one opportunities.
“We’ve seen him have to go in looking for ball around the ruck, the Wallabies need to get him more opportunities one-on-one out wide.
“That’s the chances you get, even if it’s not a winger in front of you, you’ve got to get any opposition player and make a fool of them. And I think the time in Japan has been good for him.
“Over the years he hasn’t really played a bad game and he definitely goes looking for the ball; if more players had his spirit and toughness I think the Wallabies would be putting up more consistent performances.”
Campese did however have an issue with the technique of Koroibete’s try-saving tackle on Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi, something former Wales captain Sam Warburton had also flagged on Twitter this week.
Former Wallabies winger Adam Ashley-Cooper was among those to jump to Koroibete’s defence, but Campese joined Warburton in pointing out the Fijian flyer’s problematic head position.
“He made one more tackle than I did, so I can’t really comment,” Campese, who was never renowned for his own defensive work, quipped. “But I did think that it was a shoulder charge and should have been a red card, because we want kids to know.
“And the other thing is look where Koroibete’s head is, we always tell our kids to put their heads on the ball-runner’s arse, cheek to cheek, if a kid tries to tackle that way I think he is going to get badly injured. Yes, he saved the try, and the emotion and everything was great, but if you look at the tackle it was a shoulder charge.
“That was his rugby league instincts shining through, in rugby we teach our kids to put their heads to the side of the body.”
The Wallabies will take an unchanged starting side into Saturday night’s second Test against the Springboks, which Rugby Australia on Thursday morning revealed was officially a sell-out at the rebuilt Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
After several years of financial pain and concerns the game could go under financially, a second sellout in Sydney this year – the Wallabies’ third Test against England across the road at the SCG also had the “house full” sign up – suggests rugby may be creeping up from the mire in Australia.
With the British & Irish Lions series in 2025 and then the World Cup to come two years later, the game has an opportunity to put itself front and centre in the minds of Australian sports fans.
And it is that runway that has Rugby Australia reportedly considering a raid on the NRL ranks, just as they did in the lead-up to the 2003 World Cup. While the accuracy of a reported five-year $2 million offer to Roosters sensation Joseph Suaali’i has been questioned, RA chairman Hamish McLennan has confirmed the governing body is keen to bring him back to the game he played as a schoolboy.
Campese, however, said that was sending a bad message to those already playing rugby.
“We’ve been through this before haven’t we? They recruited three big league players for 2003 and we didn’t win the World Cup.
“Why are we persisting with rugby players, why don’t we just send them all to rugby league and then we’ll just buy them back with money we don’t have.
“I do a lot of work with kids and they play the game and they want to see a progression through the ranks to play for their country. We’ve been through this before, it didn’t work once, so why do they think it’s going to work this time?
“For me, the way we get to people to play rugby is to make it entertaining — I said this 30 years ago in my book “On a wing and a prayer“. It’s all in there. We’ve got to make the game exciting, not throw bucket loads of money at NRL players.”
And it seems Campese has at least one ally in the Wallabies at the moment, with attack coach Scott Wisemantel agreeing that Australian rugby should instead be focusing on development.
“If he chose to come across he could potentially fit in but I don’t want to take away from guys like Kellaway, (Tom) Wright, Vunivalu, (Jock) Campbell, Marika – those guys are damn good footballers,” Wisemantel said.
“By entertaining any of this, and look, I have not spoken to him and don’t know him from a bar of soap, we’re taking away from the blokes that we’ve got and the blokes that we’re trying to develop.
“So on one hand, we’re talking about development. And then on the other hand, you’re talking about recruitment. We’re about development here at the moment.”