Classic Lions matches: No.9 – Campese’s moment of madness

The Battle of Ballymore may have turned the 1989 British & Irish Lions series on its head but it was David Campese's mistake in the third Test that sealed the tourists' win. [more]

Classic Lions matches: No.9 – Campese’s moment of madness

The Battle of Ballymore may have turned the 1989 British & Irish Lions series on its head but it was David Campese’s mistake in the third Test that sealed the tourists’ win.

This was the first time the Lions had toured Australia since 1971 and the first time exclusively on the island for 90 years.

And the platform was set for a classic decider as the two teams went into the third and final Test squared at one-one, with plenty of animosity adding to the occasion.

The Wallabies had outplayed Sir Ian McGeechan’s troops in the opening clash, sealing a 30-12 victory in Sydney.

But the bruising encounter at the Ballymore Stadium had levelled the series as McGeechan had rung the changes, including the likes of player-of-the-series Mike Teague, Wade Dooley and Rob Andrew at fly-half.

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And the coaching staff kept faith with same side that responded so well in the second Test in Brisbane.

For the final Test the game returned to Sydney but the opening exchanges were nip and tuck, a hat-trick of penalties from Gavin Hastings, in reply to a converted try from Wallaby right wing Ian Williams and a penalty from Michael Lynagh had left the scores tied at 9-9 after the opening 40 minutes.

But Campese’s moment of madness soon after the interval proved to the decisive moment of the series. After an attempted drop-goal by Andrew went wide, the flying winger picked up the ball and instead of dotting it down or booting it down field, decided that there was an opportunity to counter attack.

He was confronted by Lions wing Ieuan Evans, and thinking that he would have drawn in the defender, he threw a pass out to Greg Martin, who was completely unaware of his intentions.

The pass was wayward and it allowed Evans to easily dive on the ball and score the soft try that resulted in the Lions winning the Test as well as the series.

“It was my fault because I tried to step inside and pass at once, thinking that Evans would come with me,” Campese wrote in his autobiography ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’.

“In fact, when I passed, he was in between me and Martin, and when I threw such a hopeless pass he had a simple job in touching it down. I still think the idea was perfectly sound, it was just that the execution was wrong.”

Former Wallaby fly-half Mark Ella has since suggested that it was Campese's frustration at being starved of possession that persuaded him to take such a risk in a game of such magnitude.

"I sympathised with Campese when he made that famous blunder," said Ella. "I have no doubt he did it out of frustration. He had been starved of the ball for so long that he tried to do too much with it at a critical moment."

Meanwhile, Lions tour manager Clive Rowlands thought it was all too easy to blame Campese for a result that he felt was always going to go their way.

“It was wrong to blame Campese for the defeat in which his forwards were comprehensively trounced,” he said. 

Either way, two more penalties from Gavin Hastings sealed the win as the tourists built a 19-12 lead and despite Lynagh slotting two late kicks of his own the result was never in doubt for a famous series victory. 

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