New Zealand rugby lost an unsung hero today with the passing of Mac McCallion.

The 67-year-old fashioned a particularly successful record as coach of Counties Manukau and as an assistant coach to Sir Graham Henry's Blues teams in the 1990s.

He also coached the Fijian national side.

McCallion had a reputation as a hard bugger fashioned from a career in the New Zealand Army. He coached that way and immediately had a big impact on an under-rated Steelers team in the mid-1990s that saw them become a major force in the provincial game.


The Steelers went to back-to-back division one finals under McCallion, who presided over the side during the emergence of star wingers Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri.

While those two players had a massive role in the success of the side, McCallion came up with a style of play that got the best out of the try-scoring superstars on each wing.

Players like Tony and Glenn Marsh, George Leaupepe, Blair Feeney and Danny Lee thrived under McCallion's tutelage but it was McCallion's ability to get the most out of a little-known forward pack that led to much of the side's success. Players like John Akurangi, Chris Rose and Lee Lidgard matched seasoned professionals while being coached by McCallion.

The Steelers forwards epitomised everything McCallion stood for – they were tough, uncompromising and they weren't after headlines – they simply got the job done without any fuss.

As the game became professional his old school ways perhaps became out-dated and he drifted away from the top level less than a decade into professionalism. It might be fair to say the game left him behind but I'm not sure that was actually a good thing for rugby.

McCallion got results and a number of stars in the early days of professional rugby owe their success to his grounding.

His passing will have a massive impact on a huge number of people, especially those that he coached and the people of Counties Manukau.

Rest in peace Mac.