Australian forwards coach admits Mack Hansen is one who got away

Dan McKellar coached Australian-born Hansen at the Brumbies before his move to Connacht

The man who coached both Mack Hansen, and more fleetingly Finlay Bealham, will renew plenty of old acquaintances this week, not least in returning to Wicklow RFC, with whom he first cut his teeth as a player-coach at the age of 25 in 2002.

Dan McKellar, the Wallabies’ forwards coach, was completing his third year as the Brumbies’ head coach when he was about to offer Hansen, an ever-present in the side’s 15-game 2021 rugby season, a new deal. Whereupon Hansen, whose mother Diana O’Shea hailed from Cork, informed McKellar he was taking up an offer to join Connacht.

“He’s a good mate and a good man,” McKellar said yesterday at the Wallabies’ hotel in Dublin. “He’s a really lovable character. I remember the first time he came in and saw me and said he was going to Connacht. Having spent time in Ireland myself I knew he’d love Ireland and they’ve 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 receiver 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. He left Canberra and the Brumbies because he’s a Canberra boy and he’s lived there all his life and he wanted a new life experience. I think if you asked Mack if he was going to be playing for Ireland six to 12 months into that experience, he probably would have laughed. But he’s earned that right. He’s in a good place. Happy for him, but hopefully we keep him quiet on Saturday.”

McKellar agrees that Hansen was one that got way.

“He’s always been that player that has the potential to kick on. You’re happy for the individual, [but] you’re disappointed that he’s wearing green this weekend and he’s not wearing gold. That was the career path that he took, others the same.

“It happens. It’s pretty commonplace now, isn’t it, in international rugby? He’s not the only guy in the Irish side with foreign heritage and you’re pleased for him. I understand that he’ll be a threat for us on Saturday.”

McKellar also briefly came across Bealham when he was coaching the Tuggeranong Vikings in 2011. “I was there for probably about a month and there was a young tighthead prop there, who played a lot for a second grade. He came into my office and said ‘I’ve got a chance to go to the academy at Connacht’ and I said ‘Jump at it’.

“Again, what a progression for him and he’s really developed into a really good international tighthead prop and forged out a pretty impressive career over here. Two Canberra boys that I know well and [I’m] pleased for them.”

As for his own stint in Ireland, McKellar coached the Wicklow RFC team and the St Gerard’s Junior Cup team in the 2002-03 season.

“It was my first coaching job; I was player coach. It was a great experience. I still had the dream to be a professional player but coaching was always something that I wanted to do and they gave me an opportunity.

“I was a young man really. I was coaching blokes ten years older than me. So, I’ll duck down to Wicklow during the week and have a pint with them and say ‘G’day’. They’re good people and great memories.”

McKellar, a former loosehead prop, fulfilled his dream by playing for the Reds in 2005 and 2006, and after his stint coaching the Tuggeranong Vikings he coached for a year in Japan. He returned to the Brumbies as skills and defence coach in 2014 before becoming their head coach in 2018. Co-opted on to the Wallabies as an assistant coach last year, he stepped down from the Brumbies to focus on his role with Australia through to the World Cup.

The Wallabies arrive in Dublin on the back of their 28-27 defeat by Italy in Florence on Saturday, after making 11 changes to the side which came within a wonderful Damian Penaud try of beating France the week before.

“We’re obviously disappointed with our performance but you’ve got to give credit to the opposition. I think Kieran Crowley and the staff over there [Italy] have done a tremendous job. There’s obvious changes to how they’re playing now. They scored some really good tries, but we’ve got to be better with what we’re doing, there’s no doubt.”

McKellar agreed fully with Dave Rennie’s decision to rest players in Florence, their 12th Test of 14 in an arduous year, and the largely refreshed side which takes on Ireland will use their display against France as a benchmark.

“I say the Irish are honestly the best in the world, but the French are a close second. They’re a very good side and we feel we should have won that game. We didn’t manage the last five or six minutes well enough and unfortunately it was another disappointing shed.

“If we’re to give ourselves any chance this week we need to make sure we deliver the same sort of intent, but we’ve got to deliver the same sort of accuracy as well around our game to make sure that we’re putting the Irish under pressure at key moments.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times