'Bigger than ourselves': Wallabies coach identifies key to revival

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Pictured in the centre, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie poses for a photo with his team.
The upcoming spring tour represents a momentous task for Wallabies coach Dave Rennie. Pic: Getty

Last week, well away from rugby's international spotlight, a humble servant of the game was laid to rest.

Russell "Rusty" Mackie gave his entire life to rugby, joining Sydney Shute Shield club Manly in 1971 and never leaving.

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Over 50 years he played, refereed, ran the line, ran the water, helped set up the field, helped pack away the field, gave rubdowns, strapped players, manned the BBQ, cleaned up the dressing-rooms and made it back to the clubhouse for a schooner and game recap.

There is a Rusty at every rugby club in Australia.

The old school type who never takes a day off and always puts his hand up, not out, when asked to help.

As former Manly coach Brian Melrose put it: "Modern team building gurus are brought in from around the world to inspire and unify teams.

"The words 'resilience', 'commitment', 'work ethic' and 'care' are bandied around like confetti. In more cases than not, they are empty words on a post-it note that make teams feel good about themselves.

"Rusty was everything that players and teams need to be and didn’t need a textbook on culture to find out.

"He was a living embodiment of the ability to connect to a cause greater than yourself.”

Club rugby icon Russel 'Rusty' Mackie is pictured holding a beer after a Manly Marlins game.
The rugby community has been mourning the recent death of Russel 'Rusty' Mackie. Pic: Northern Beaches Review

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie never met Rusty Mackie but the two Kiwis are cut from the same sheepskin cloth.

Forget the fancy slogans - just rip in at every training session, every game, look after the bloke beside you and do your bit without word of complaint and for the betterment of others.

Attitude the key for Wallabies coach 

Asked how much importance he placed on culture, Rennie told WWOS: "It's probably a loose word culture. What does it really mean? We've put an emphasis on getting the guys to understand who they are and who they represent.

"Trying to get a genuine connection around that and understand that we're playing for something bigger than ourselves.

"We honestly believe if we want to get the country behind us we need consistent high quality performances and they want to see our boys emptying the tank week after week and if they do that people will respect us regardless of the result.

"We've made a start but it's something that's a big focus for us."

The next month will tell us a lot about where Rennie's team is at and whether the advancements made during the Rugby Championship were genuine or a brief respite from recent horrors.

A tricky assignment against Japan on Saturday afternoon at steamy Oita Stadium will be followed by Tests against Scotland, England and Wales as winter begins to take hold in the northern hemisphere.

Two wins from four is barely a pass mark, three victories would be very good and a four-game clean sweep may almost earn the Wallabies a ticker tape parade.

But read into Rennie's comments and it's clear he wants much more than a positive win-loss ledger by the time the Australians return home.

It's all about a little more Rusty Mackie and a little less Anthony Robbins.

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