Dan McKellar says the Brumbies and Rugby Australia made a strong effort to keep Mack Hansen in the country before his stunning Test debut for Ireland.
The 23-year-old outside back played for Australia at under-20 level but struggled to nail down a regular starting spot for the Brumbies.
And so the Canberra product linked with Connacht last year with the knowledge that Ireland could come calling thanks to his Cork-born mother.
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Injuries accelerated that call-up and Hansen seized the opportunity with both hands, winning man of the match from the left wing in Ireland’s 29-7 win over Six Nations champions Wales at the weekend.
“I just want to put it out there that Mack was certainly made an offer to stay in Australia and he wanted a life experience, a change,” said McKellar, the Brumbies coach and Wallabies assistant.
“He’s a Canberra boy, he’s grown up in Canberra, born and bred and wanted to experience something different. That’s the beauty of rugby union, isn’t it, you can go around the world and enjoy and experience that.
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“It certainly wasn’t that he wasn’t wanted, we did all we could to try and keep him. He wanted a change and we respected that, hoping we might be able to get him back in a year or two but that’s probably looking unlikely now.”
McKellar said RA had continued to speak with Hansen after he arrived at Connacht and immediately performed well.
“But at the end of the day it’s individual choice… he had the option of going into the Irish squad immediately and potentially playing Test football early or holding off and coming back to Australia down the track. He’s made the choice to play for Ireland and all we can do is respect that and move on now.”
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The Brumbies have strong outside back stocks including Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Andy Muirhead, Cam Clark and Jesse Mogg.
McKellar did admit some some surprise that other Australian franchises had not secured the services of Hansen, who scored a Super Rugby hat-trick in February.
“He’s just one of those players who flies under the radar a little bit,” McKellar said.
“He’s not six foot three and 110kg. The first time I saw Mack do a preseason training session you could tell he’d played a lot of footy in the backyard with his mates, his brother and his old man. His natural instincts are very good but was it obvious to other coaches and organisations? Probably not.
“He hadn’t played a whole lot of Super Rugby so he went with our blessing and has flourished off the back of it. All we can do is admire that now.
“It’s a little bit disappointing that he won’t ever play for Australia but certainly proud that he’s gone over there and made it a real success.”
RA chief executive Andy Marinos was also asked about the one that got away during the Super Rugby Pacific season launch today.
He described Hansen’s debut as “unbelievable.”
“In the first three minutes he had two significant touches on the ball and really stamped his authority at international level,” Marinos said.
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“Part of the high performance review is identifying all the players that are playing abroad and having a good tracking on where they are in their progress and how they’ve developed and seeing how they can integrate back into our system, if at all.
“When you look at the players he was playing behind at the Brumbies, I think those coaches at that time made that decision and other franchises who were offered him, believed that they had better resources at that position.
“When you look at it, wing is one area that we’ve been quite strong over the last couple of years. I just think it’s fantastic that he’s been able to get that opportunity and perform so well.”
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