8 February 2022

Canberra’s Mack Hansen stars on debut for Ireland: what does this mean for Australian rugby?

| Tim Gavel
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Mack Hansen

Playing for Ireland, Mack Hansen was player of the match in his debut game. Photo: Screenshot.

Brumbies and Australian Rugby officials would have watched Mack Hansen’s performance on debut for Ireland over the weekend with mixed emotions.

Here was a Canberra born and bred player on the wing for Ireland in the Six Nations game against Wales, creating opportunities every time he touched the ball.

Such was his impact, he was named man of the match. And that all happened after just a handful of games for Connacht.

There would have been, no doubt, delight from the likes of Laurie Fisher and Dan McKellar when they watched his performance given that he was playing for the Brumbies up until last season before chancing his arm with Connacht.

The way he played reflects the coaching he received as a junior through the Uni Norths Owls, Daramalan, ACT Rugby Union, then the Brumbies and Gungahlin Eagles.

Mack Hansen playing for Uni Norths Owls

Mack Hansen playing for Uni Norths Owls. Photo: Supplied.

The Brumbies were apparently keen to keep him, but opportunities were limited with the Brumbies back three, Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead and Tom Wright, in the Wallabies squad.

And it would appear that opportunities would also be limited in 2022, so when Andy Friend called and asked Mack if he was interested in heading to Connacht, he jumped at the chance.

There were no guarantees, but it was an opportunity to start afresh, and with an Irish-born mother, it also presented the possibility of playing for Ireland.

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After only a few games for Connacht, Mack made his test debut for Ireland. He is unlikely to be seen in Australian rugby for some time, if at all.

For Australian rugby, it is another one that got away. In the same game on the weekend, sitting on the bench for Ireland, was former St Edmund’s College student Finlay Bealham.

Bealham, a prop with an Irish grandmother, has now played 19 tests for Ireland.

Finlay Bealham

Finlay Bealham- another loss to Australian rugby. Photo: Connacht Rugby FB.

Then, of course, there is Canberra raised prop Tyrel Lomax who has now played 14 tests for the All Blacks.

Andy Friend, himself no stranger to the vagaries of Australian rugby, has found success, guiding Connacht to the finals.

So why are we losing so much talent to overseas clubs and international teams?

It appears you almost have to prove yourself overseas for Australia to be interested.

It was certainly the case with Mack, yet there he was, under their noses the whole time.

Andy Friend. Photo: Connacht Rugby FB.

Andy Friend. Photo: Connacht Rugby FB.

Does Australian rugby union need to fast track a central contracting system similar to New Zealand to ensure there are opportunities for players?

There have been a few obsessions in Australian rugby, the first being that New Zealand and South African coaches are better than their Australian counterparts.

Another is the obsession with paying big money to lure rugby league players, mainly outside backs, with mixed results but often at the expense of locally developed rugby players.

Connacht and Irish Six Nations player, Mack Hansen. Photo: Connacht Rugby FB.

Connacht and Irish Six Nations player, Mack Hansen. Photo: Connacht Rugby FB.

Admittedly, a number of the wingers in particular who were signed, and continue to be signed, were former rugby union players before switching to league.

But there appears to be a perception that just because they played league, they must be better than the existing players in rugby.

Surely the better defender myth has long been put to bed, along with the perception that rugby league players are tougher mentally.

Hopefully, the vision of Mack Hansen cutting Wales to shreds is a wake-up call for Australian rugby.

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Capital Retro2:48 pm 09 Feb 22

The players being talked about here are professionals and they go where they get the best deal, probably arranged through their respective agents none of whom have their roots in Canberra.

There is no “home town” sentiment in business.

Vinson1Bernie1:50 pm 09 Feb 22

Most Rugby players dont mature till early 20’s so wheres the money to contract lots of good teenagers to Rugby who may or may not go on to bigger things – Mack is a handy player but wasnt a standout at 18 but has improved with o/s experience so maybe thats the answer that fringe teenage players should have gap years playing in Europe though getting a contract may take time….

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