The Ireland wing has made a real impact in this year's Six Nations. So we take a closer look at what makes the Connacht star tick
Mack Hansen Uncovered
Some players take to Test rugby like a duck to similes. And if you look at wing Mack Hansen’s first Six Nations through the prism of numbers, there are plenty of reasons to be excited as an Ireland fan.
Two rounds in, only England’s Freddie Steward has made more ground with ball in hand, with the Connacht flyer totting up 239m according to Opta. He has the joint-most line breaks in the competition with three. And he averages the most metres per carry for anyone who has made more than five carries (Blair Kinghorn and Federico Mori have higher averages but have only carried four times in the tournament).
But if you wanted to narrow in on one special moment, there are a few other numbers that stand out too.
Hansen’s try against France was the perfect counter-punch for a side who were against the ropes. And it happened in the blink of an eye. Thanks to some work from analyst Brett Igoe, we see that from Joey Carbery’s fine kick-off, the winger races onto the ball and snatches it from above an expectant Melvyn Jaminet in 3.833 seconds.
His job is nowhere near done, but such is the timing of the catch that Hansen can race towards the line without breaking stride. All told, from Carbery kick to dot down, it takes 6.916 seconds.
But while it stunned France at just the right time, a take like this won’t have surprised those who’ve seen Hansen flying around the United Rugby Championship. As Connacht assistant coach Pete Wilkins tells Rugby World of Hansen: “He has natural athleticism and confidence in the air. His try from the kick-off chase for Ireland against France showed similar qualities to a try he scored for Connacht from a crossfield kick at Leinster earlier this season.”
The impetus for moments like this began well before this season. And like so many other great rugby stories, it was borne out of hard work to create something for a player who wasn’t always pushed to the top. Hansen represented Australia U20 but at his Super Rugby side he never quite got the golden ticket.
“He played on the B team a bit at the Brumbies and most weeks he would carve up the A team,” explains Lachlan McCaffrey, who spent time with Hansen in Canberra. “He would slot in at ten, winger or full-back and just would read the game unbelievably well.
“Normally it just takes an opportunity (for someone to make it), but the Brumbies have a full Wallaby back three so there is some quality there also.
“For smart rugby players like Mack, it normally just takes an opportunity – which Connacht provided him, with week in, week out 80-minute opportunities to ply his trade. And those smart rugby brains play better when surrounded by other smart, quality rugby players. Which is why he has stood out at international level over the past few games.”
His temperament in those years flying around trying to make his mark has been commented upon too.
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Scottish lock Murray Douglas tells us: “I played with Mack at the Brumbies for a couple of years. A really top bloke. He has a very calm demeanour on the field and is the quiet, competitive type. Even when he was in pressure situations it seemed as if he wasn’t fazed by much – taking the match-winning penalty kick against the Reds in 2020 is a good example.
“You could tell he had bags of talent but when I was there we had a successful team and a settled back-line, so there was never a consistent opportunity for him to showcase his talents.”
According to both Douglas and McCaffrey, Hansen is the ideal squad-mate. The Scot explains that he can relax those around him in the changing room with his joking demeanour, while McCaffrey goes more route one: “He loves to take the piss out of himself and he will fit in with a Guinness and a few old blokes at a pub in Ireland better than anyone!”
Those are all ingredients for a cult hero at club level. At Connacht, Hansen has been allowed to be… Well, the best version of Mack Hansen. And although his ascension to Six Nations spotlight has caught some unawares, the man himself has not blinked.
But on either side of the equator, the strengths extolled by those who have worked with Hansen are echoed. Which is pleasing for fans in Galway. And there are technical aspects of his game all in Ireland should enjoy.
Wilkins says: “Similar to a lot of Australian players, he has a great competitive spirit. He is determined to compete hard and win every contest in training drills and small-sided games.
“Technically he has an uncanny ability to either slip out of would-be tackles or stay on his feet in contact long enough to keep the ball alive.
“He also has a great feel for game play and a sense of space within the game. At Connacht we are encouraging the players to embrace unstructured play and have a sense of freedom to chase opportunities in different parts of the field. That is something he has embraced for us, and can also be seen from his work-rate off his wing for Ireland in his first two games.”
With three rounds to go, mapping Hansen’s flight pattern across the Six Nations should be fun.
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