Mack Hansen’s breakthrough moment revealed, as McKellar reflects on one who got away

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DUBLIN – Australian rugby might have slept on Mack Hansen last year, but 18 months after the Canberra-born back arrived in Galway he will be one of the first players the Wallabies have eyes on at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (AEDT).

Hansen’s incredible rise from Canberra to world beater is a tale almost too good to be true.

After leaving Australian rugby on what Connacht coach Andy Friend described as a “free shot”, the 24-year-old was announced on Monday as one of four nominees for World Rugby rookie of the year.

It left his former coach at the Brumbies, Dan McKellar, acknowledging there was an element of “what if” about Hansen, as the former Junior Wallabies star prepares to line up against his nation of birth for Ireland this weekend.

“Yeah, I think so,” McKellar said. “He’s always been that player that had that potential to kick on.

“You’re happy for the individual. You’re disappointed he’s wearing green this weekend and he’s not wearing gold.”

McKellar never wanted to lose Hansen, but with a star-studded list and Wallabies fullback Tom Banks and winger Tom Wright on the wing, opportunities were scarce at the Brumbies.

It meant that when Connacht started expressing interest about the versatile back, who qualified for Ireland through his mother, Hansen decided to take a chance and move to Ireland.

Mack Hansen of the Brumbies and team mates are cheered off after they defeated the Rebels during the round one Super Rugby AU match between the Brumbies and the Rebels at GIO Stadium on July 04, 2020 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Mack Hansen at the Brumbies in 2020. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The moment was not lost on McKellar, who had seen the teenager grow into an adult.

“I remember the first time he came in and saw me and said he was going to Connacht,” McKellar said.

“Having spent time in Ireland myself, I knew he’d love Ireland and they’d love him. He’s come over here and earned their respect through his performances. He’s really kicked on. He’s a different player to what the Irish are probably used to.

“The first time I saw Mack he was a 17-year-old out of school. You could tell he was a natural footballer. That’s what he provides the Irish team. He’s a winger but he gets in at first recover and he distributes. He often will throw a pass that creates a line break or is a try assist. He’ll score them as well.

“It was sad to see him go.”

Hansen was not so much written off as a young 20-something, as under-appreciated.

After all, he had sizzled during the under-20s World Cup for the Junior Wallabies and slotted match-winners for the Brumbies.

While the fleet-footed back didn’t immediately catch the eye of Friend, the more he watched of Hansen the more he started rubbing his hands together.

“I was very, very happy that we managed to secure his signature because you could just see he was very talented,” Friend told The Roar.

“But to be honest with you mate, he exceeded my expectations when he got here.

“From the minute he laced on a boot here, you could just say he was real class. He’s real class.”

Yet it wasn’t until he scored two tries against Leinster A last year that Friend, who is leaving Connacht at season’s end, knew he had struck gold.

“He did something with his hips that was just incredible,” Friend said. “I just went ‘holy hell, what’s he just done there?’
“And then he did it a second time to score a second try against a Leinster A team and I just went, ‘wow, this kid is outstanding.’

“You could just see he was very good.”

A spectacular chip and chase put him on the radar for a surprise national call-up for the Six Nations mid-way through his first season at Connacht.

A remarkable debut, which was followed with an incredible try from a kick restart, saw him leave the watching world in awe of his ability to make the game look so easy.

Hansen’s name wasn’t lost at training on Monday, with several his past teammates looking forward to taking him on.

As McKellar said though, “happy for him, but hopefully we keep him quiet on Saturday.”



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