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Mackenzie reflects on emotional Wales debut

First Team News | 4th March 2024

Mackenzie Martin became the 1,200th Wales men's international when he made his debut against Ireland last week in the Guinness Six Nations.

The 20-year-old Blue and Blacks Pathway product came on in the second half at the Aviva for Cardiff team-mate Alex Mann.

Martin spoke about his pride in donning the Welsh jersey and the emotion of having his family over in Ireland to watch him make his debut.

"It was probably the biggest moment of my life so far," said Martin.

"It's crazy and hasn't sunk in yet. I don't think it will until the season's over, until we chill out and look back.

"It didn't faze me. The Friday night before the game, I was more nervous than Saturday. It was fine when we got on the pitch and warmed up.

"Even on the way there, I wasn't that nervous. I was more composed than anything, trying to keep my mind on the task.

"Going to those big stadiums, with the amount of pressure people feel, I've enjoyed it. I think it makes me play better when I'm under pressure.

"I think they felt it more than me. I was in the moment, fixated on the game and trying to win, but then I came off the pitch, they were crying.

"When I got back home also, my family who couldn't make it out to Ireland, they were all crying and stuff. It was emotional."

Martin made his international bow after only nine games for Cardiff and wasn’t sure if he would have a career in rugby before he was given his opportunity by head coach Matt Sherratt, which he grasped with both hands.

"I started the season with Cardiff RFC and then luckily Jockey gave me the chance to play for Cardiff Rugby,” said Mackenzie.

"I took the opportunity and that's exactly what I want to do here with Wales.

"Last year, when I was playing for Cardiff and just before the Wales Under-20s, they weren't sure if they were going to give me another contract.

"I played well for the Wales Under-20s, so luckily I did get another one. But that was probably the moment where I thought, it could go either way.

"I wasn't worried too much about the future but it's in the back of your mind. I backed myself to get a deal and luckily I did.

"If rugby hadn't worked out, I'm sure I'd be working hard at something else."

Mackenzie is grateful for the support of his family and proud to be brought up in Ely.

"I am definitely hard-working, I'm rough around the edges," said Martin.

"Growing up, it wasn't the easiest as anybody can imagine, but my family has always been great and I've learned from them.

"My brothers, especially my older brother and my dad, they let me know that it doesn't matter where I come from, I can still make something of myself.

"I was always going to work hard because my dad's the hardest worker I know, so I take a lot from him.

"He's actually retired now. He's got arthritis in his back, so he can't work anymore. He's done loads of jobs, always put food on the table.

"He's worked in warehouses, delivered milk, he's done loads of things. He had a little business at one time, so he's always been on the go, always feeding us, that type of thing.

"Even when he didn't want to, he would get up early in the morning and still go to work every day without fail. No matter if he was hurting, no matter how tired he was.

"So that gives me inspiration when I'm tired, I still get up and go."

Mackenzie admits that Cardiff teammate Taulupe Faletau was his hero growing up and is a major inspiration and influence on his game.

"Taulupe Falatau is the man," added Martin. "I didn't watch much regional rugby when I was young; I watched films with my dad and stuff but we would always watch Wales together.

"Every time we would see him, my dad would say he is amazing. When I transitioned to the back row, I was about 16, I was always trying to follow in his footsteps and how he played the game.

"We are a little bit different as players, but it's the way he works around the field and carries himself. That was the inspiration.

"I haven't been fortunate to train with him yet, because he has been injured. It's absolutely crazy just being able to pick his brains.

"He's always been my favourite player. He's one of the biggest stars and before the Ireland game, I sat down and had coffee with him, he was so welcoming.

"He's just amazing to work with. He's one of the best number eights in the world, for me the best, so if I can even replicate that a little bit, I'd be doing myself proud."

Faith and religion is important to Mackenzie.

"My faith is massively important. Kids growing up, they need something to put their effort into, especially where I'm from.

"Everybody always thinks rugby put me on the right path. But it was God that helped me do that and put that opportunity into my life.

"That's how strong my faith is. That's why I always say, 'all glory to God' and stuff like that because I wouldn't have had opportunities without him."