Rennie revamping Wallabies' team culture: Salakaia-Loto

Wellington (AFP) –


Lukhan Salakaia-Loto said new coach Dave Rennie has swiftly brought a multi-cultural Wallabies squad together ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in Wellington this weekend.

Queensland Reds lock Salakaia-Loto also suggested the Australians' two-week quarantine in Christchurch had been "a blessing in disguise", allowing 16 uncapped players to become familiar with the team environment.

"There's a lot of energy and excitement around this group," he said.

"It's been good being in lockdown, especially to get to know one another a bit more. It's sort of forced you to be together 24/7."

Around a third of the 44-man Wallabies squad have Pacific islander heritage and relations in the dressing room have not always been smooth.

Some Polynesian players spoke out last year when Israel Folau was sacked for homophobic social media posts, raising concerns his right to religious expression was being denied.

Salakaia-Loto said the team culture had changed under Rennie, who was born in New Zealand but has Cook Islander heritage.

He was appointed in July and has his first Test in charge of the Wallabies on Sunday.

"He's done really well in building the culture and getting the boys to understand different cultures because we're such a multi-cultural group," he said.

"Maybe in the past we haven't really understood each other as well as we should have."

Salakaia-Loto said the Wallabies under Rennie were "a level playing field", where everyone was encouraged to speak out and exchange ideas.

Rennie achieved a similar feat when he guided the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012-13.

At the time, he was vocal about tapping into the Hamilton-based side's Maori heritage, ending years of under-achievement under his predecessor Ian Foster, the current All Blacks coach.

Salakaia-Loto said it was difficult to know what to expect on Sunday, as the Wallabies and All Blacks had been out of action for so long due to the Covid-19 pandemic and both had new coaches.

"Both teams are going in a bit blindfolded because it's been such a crazy year," he said.

"It's just rocking up on the day, making sure we do what we want to do and sticking to our guns."