Rennie has helped 'multicultural' Wallabies bond: Salakaia-Loto

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - New coach Dave Rennie has worked hard off the field to bring the “multicultural” Wallabies closer together so that they will work harder for each other on the pitch, forward Lukhan Salakaia-Loto said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2019 - Pool D - Australia v Wales - Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 29, 2019 Australia's Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in action with Wales' Rhys Patchell REUTERS/Issei Kato

More than a third of Rennie’s first Wallabies squad have Pacific islands heritage, including Salakaia-Loto, whose parents were born in Samoa.

New Zealander Rennie has Cook Islands heritage on his mother’s side, and in the leadup to Sunday’s season-opening test against the All Blacks in Wellington the coach has asked the Wallabies to try to better understand each other’s roots.

“He’s done really well in building the culture, getting boys to understand different cultures because we all come from different places,” Salakaia-Loto told reporters from Christchurch.

“We’re such a multicultural group.

“(Work) off the field is such an important part of results ... The effort we put in for each other on the field is going to be much stronger, too.”

The players’ bonds were tested last year when Rugby Australia (RA) moved to sack fullback Israel Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, for posting a meme on social media that said hell awaits “homosexuals” and other groups.

A number of Wallabies were vocal in their support of the decision but others expressed sympathy for Folau, including prop Taniela Tupou, who remarked on social media that RA “might as well sack (him)” and other Christian Pacific islands players.

“Maybe in the past we haven’t really understood one another as well as we should have,” said Salakaia-Loto.

“So (Rennie’s) really worked hard on getting us to bond and understand each other.”

The Wallabies may know each other better now but they remain in the dark about their roles in Sunday’s game.

Salakaia-Loto has trained as both a loose forward and lock but said he had no idea where he will line up in Wellington.

“I think we’ll find out in next coming days -- we’ve got no idea as of yet,” he added.

Editing Peter Rutherford