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Rugby Communities in the Counties Manukau region, New Zealand and off shore today mourn the passing of Mac McCallion.

It's going to leave many people with heavy hearts because characters like Mac don't come along very often.

Mac McCallion was born on 26 July 1950.  Mac was named New Zealand coach of the year in 1996 and 1997 for his work with the Counties NPC team. He enhanced his reputation further as Graham Henry’s assistant at the Auckland Blues during a four-year spell that saw them reach three consecutive Super 12 finals, lifting the trophy on two occasions in 1997 and 1998. He was appointed Fiji’s national coaching director in March 2002 and took the Fiji rugby team to the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Mac has had a string of his Counties rugby family visit him during his illness which is a reflection of his popularity in this region. There have already been tributes paid with former Counties greats Errol Brain and Tony Marsh lavishing praise on a man with uncompromising values.  

Former Counties captain Errol Brain said “Mac gave all of us, as individuals, a strong sense of self belief to be able to compete with the bigger Unions.

“Mac was a hard man, I have never trained so hard and because of that he created a team culture that was tight.  I have a lot of memories of the games and also very special ones of him as I was fortunate to be his captain.

“Under Mac, we knew we could be competitive against teams with plenty of All Blacks and win those games which we were fortunate enough to do during round robins.  He took us to two finals in 1996 and 1997 and that was a great period in Counties’ history.

“He was a straight shooter and you knew pretty quickly where you stood with him which is what I admired about him most.”

Another one of Mac’s players, Tony Marsh, echoed Brain’s comments

“The environment Mac created was uncompromising, hardnosed but fun which translated well on the field.  We were part of the pre-pro era but we never trained so hard and that built confidence.

I am grateful for being coached by him and being part of that era for Counties.  It was a pretty special time.  Mac contributed to our development both on and off the field and instilled values and a strong work ethic that set us up for rugby and life outside of the sport.  He was a top man, who we all respected, and we will miss him greatly.”

There was also a tribute from Craig Carter, Counties Manukau Rugby Football Union Chairman, who speaks in glowing terms:

“It’s a sad day for Counties Manukau as one our favourite sons has passed away. Mac served the country in Vietnam, played for the Manurewa & Papakura clubs, played many seasons for Counties, captained NZ Maori and coached the Steelers, at all times with a hard-working and uncompromising attitude. They don’t make them like Mac anymore and he will be missed by all within the rugby community.  RIP Mac”

Neil Sorensen, NZR General Manager Rugby said:  “On behalf of the wider Rugby family,  I send our condolences to Mac’s family and friends.  He was a true provincial rugby man, with a military-precise work ethic and passion for the game which saw him make invaluable contributions on and off the field.  We know our friends at Counties Manukau will be mourning the loss of a true Rugby man.”

Rest in peace Mac.