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'They came up to me and were saying ‘I’ve got the same hair as you’'

By PA
HENSOL, WALES - FEBRUARY 29: Mackenzie Martin of Wales talks to the press during the Wales Press Conference at The Vale Resort on February 29, 2024 in Hensol, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

Mackenzie Martin hopes he can be a “trailblazer” to inspire young people in Cardiff’s Ely community after making his Wales debut following just nine games of professional rugby.

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The 20-year-old featured as a replacement in Wales’ 31-7 Guinness Six Nations defeat against Ireland.

Ely, a western Cardiff suburb, has not always enjoyed positive headlines and was the scene of major riots in 1991 and 2023.

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Simon Raiwalui on what his new role with World Rugby entails

Former Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui chats about his new role as High Performance Pathways and Player Development Manager at World Rugby.

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Simon Raiwalui on what his new role with World Rugby entails

Former Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui chats about his new role as High Performance Pathways and Player Development Manager at World Rugby.

Martin grew up on the estate’s Grand Avenue, and he is the latest sportsman to emerge from an area that can boast a portfolio containing Ryan Giggs, Steve Robinson and his fellow boxer Nicky Piper.

“I hope I can be a trailblazer,” Cardiff back-row forward Martin said. “I hope the kids are going to look up to me.

“When I went down there the other week, even before I made my debut, there were a good few of them copying my haircut.

“They came up to me and were saying ‘I’ve got the same hair as you’ and that type of thing. All theirs looked better than mine, so I was a bit jealous!

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“Growing up, it wasn’t obviously the easiest, as anybody can imagine, but my family has always been great and I have learnt from them.

“I was always going to work hard because I think my dad is the hardest worker I know. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still make something of yourself.

“My dad worked in warehouses, he has delivered milk, he has done loads of things. He has always been on the go, so that gives me the inspiration to keep working hard.”

Martin has a deep religious faith, and he added: “Everybody always thinks that rugby – not saved me – but that rugby put me on the right path. But it was God that helped me do that.

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“God put that opportunity into my life, so that is how strong my faith is and that is why I always say ‘all glory to God’ and stuff like that because I wouldn’t have had the opportunities without him.”

Martin only made his professional debut in November 2023, but he has joined Cardiff team-mates Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann as exciting Six Nations newcomers.

Such was Martin’s impact off the bench in Dublin that it would be no surprise if he is promoted to a starting place against France on Sunday week.

And he will continue to be inspired by a player he describes as “the man” – 104 times-capped Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau.

“Me and my dad always watched Wales together, and every time we would see him (Faletau) my dad would say ‘he is amazing’,” Martin said.

“When I transitioned to the back-row when I was about 16 I was always just trying to follow in his footsteps and how he played the game.

“Obviously, we are a little bit different as players, but it is still the way he works around the field and the way he carries himself. That was the inspiration.

“He is one of the best number eights in the world – well, for me the best number eight in the world – so if I can even replicate that a little bit I would be doing myself proud.”

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