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Mack Hansen making international rugby look like child’s play after whirlwind 12 months

Connacht star made his mark last year, but he’s not resting on his laurels 


Mack Hansen during Ireland rugby media conference at The Campus in Quinta do Lago, Portugal. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Mack Hansen during Ireland rugby media conference at The Campus in Quinta do Lago, Portugal. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Mack Hansen during Ireland rugby media conference at The Campus in Quinta do Lago, Portugal. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Mack Hansen strides out of the empty children’s playground where he’s been obligingly posing for some quirky photos, and grasps the hands of the assembled media.

Mack, pleased to meet you.”

A year ago, he might have needed an introduction, but that was before he reached into the Paris night and grasped a piece of Six Nations history. His try against France was one of those moments that will live on in highlights reels long after he retires.

Across the past 12 months, he’s gone from relative obscurity to a fixture on Andy Farrell’s right wing and a pivotal figure in Ireland’s world-leading attack.

He wears it easily and seems unencumbered by whatever pressure comes with the gig.

“The guys in here are just so good that you can find that it can almost be hard to have a bad game,” Connacht’s Canberran says at Ireland’s Portuguese training base before they travel to Cardiff.

“When everybody is pretty switched on and we know what we need to do, we’re pretty good at sticking to our game-plan. We’re given all the tools to play a good game – and if not a good game, a solid game at worst.

“But now that we’re all starting to really gel, we’re knowing what someone is going to do before they do it, we’re getting to that stage, which is where we want to be heading into the Six Nations.

“Test rugby stuff’s easy, isn’t it! No, just joking.

“I’ve just been very fortunate to be part of such an unreal team, playing with Johnny (Sexton), 37, being nominated for Player of the Year again.

“Leinster, even though they didn’t get what was probably their just deserts last year, they’re still an unbelievable team. They’d be the best club team in the world I’d say, by far. And they all gel so well together that it’s just easy for me to slot in and play my role, and do my job. I don’t feel that I have to do too much.

“I’m more just focusing on that than looking back, maybe. Maybe after another year or so, I might be able to look back and have a real think about it but for the time being, it’s been pretty go, go, go the whole time.

“From the Six Nations to New Zealand to autumn, there hasn’t been too much time to think, really, which I think has actually been for the best.”

His parents were over for eight weeks around Christmas, but returned to Australia before the tournament kicked off. They, like their son, don’t take his place in the Ireland side for granted.

“They’re pretty much like me, (they didn’t come for the Six Nations) just in case I didn’t get selected. That was kind of the mindset for that, so thanks mum and dad for that,” he says.

“As soon as you let up, you’re going to lose your spot and everyone knows that we’ve got such good depth.

“Some of the guys who are going to miss out this week have been playing class, and have been nominated for European Player of the Year, and have been in the past as well. So there’s no room to ease up, which is good.

“Yeah (you feel it in training), especially the guys who have been in the, I guess you could say, No 2 team.

“They’ve been tearing us apart – and that’s handy because they’re playing how we think Wales are going to play. They’re really giving to it us and that just prepares you better than anything, when somebody runs something exactly how we’ve been seeing it.

“And if it works against you, you can kind of learn from those mistakes early, as opposed to learning them on the day.

“If your training is good and you’re following how we have set, and how we have told each other how we want to play, it can only get better from here.

“There’s been a lot of chatter about World Cups, especially when it comes to Ireland, but this group feels different. We’re constantly pushing each other.

“This is only my second or third campaign, but from when I first came in there’s been no change in the competitive drive – it’s been the same the whole way through. It’s a big thing for us for the next couple of months.”

He’s packed quite a bit in to those windows and has already achieved plenty in his time in green.

Not that he’s resting on his laurels as he adapts to the rigours of the international game and the mental challenge of performing away from home in hostile places like the Cardiff cauldron.

Playing in Paris last season gave him a taste of what the Six Nations has to offer.

“I’m not going to lie, it was a little shock to the system. I’d never really played in front of anything like that before – they were just bouncing around the whole time, screaming at the top of their lungs, you don’t know what they’re saying,” he adds. “It will be a lot like Cardiff as well, even though they speak English!

“We learned a lot from that game, for sure. A lot of the guys put their hand up and said that it shocked a lot of us, it’s something that we’ve been working on and I don’t think it gets much bigger than playing in Cardiff.

“I’ve heard plenty of stories from multiple people and they say it’s an unbelievable place to play. It’s some stadium and I’m excited for it.

“Gary Keegan does a lot of work with us about staying in the moment and not getting overawed.”

As for his big Six Nations highlight, he’s parked it for now.

“I haven’t watched it for ages,” he says of his try. “I’ll definitely be showing my kids every two minutes, I’d say. For the time being it’s a new comp, new games and I can’t really dwell on the past that much. I just have to put all my focus into what’s going on now.”

Back on the horse he goes.

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