Mack Hansen treating Australia reunion like any other Test match

Former Australian Under-20 Rugby World Cup player has shot into the Irish team after less than a year

Hair sticking out from the bottom of his white scrum cap, the moustache, socks rolled down, the straight back, the ease at which he hauls himself into the fray of games- they have all been striking. There is a direct, purposeful way to how Mack Hansen plays, nominally on the wing but forever engaging inside and linking players.

From a similar mould to James Lowe, he is double barrelled, full value, playing and looking different on the pitch. Hansen, the energy giver. Just don’t mention the debriefing after last weekend against Fiji.

“No, it wasn’t very positive, to be honest. Not at all,” he says. “As you would think. Like, they were down to 13 players at one time. For us not to take advantage of that…”

When Andy Friend invited Hansen to leave Australia in 2021 to play for him in Connacht, the ripples of anticipation didn’t even make it to the M6. It was a Hail Mary appointment. “He took a good gamble on me,” he says of Friend. “I wasn’t playing too much. I think he just... I guess Connacht just give blokes a crack hoping they can kick on.”


Despite the recent displeasure of Irish coach Andy Farrell, Hansen is simultaneously buoyant and chilled while meeting his challenges with various degrees of success. For the first time he will stand for the Australian and Irish anthems. The feeling there is curiosity.

“I guess it’s just something I’ll have to experience when it happens,” he says. “I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m still trying to learn the Irish one. If the camera can get to me at the start… I sing from the start and then just kind of fade away at the end. So, if any cameraman is reading this article, film me at the very start when I’m absolutely singing the thing.”

Not dissimilar to when Irish backrow CJ Stander played against South Africa, there’s a natural blend of affection for his home country and pride in what he has achieved in Ireland. The uniqueness is something Hansen won’t back away from.

His declaration for Ireland has never been regretted. A team full of pals might be on the other side of the line in yellow but Hansen has squared it off. There is no double guessing about what might have been if he had stayed in Australia.

“Since I made my decision there have been no thoughts of back tracking at all,” he says. “I’m very happy where I am. I guess you could think what would have been with anything, so no the decision to play for Ireland has been the best decision of my career and my life.

“I’m loving it over here and enjoying it. I haven’t had too many thoughts about that. It is still nice to hear from your peers and people back home. But not once have I been upset or kind of thought ‘What if, what if I stayed there?’

“I’m just going to take it like any other game. If I buy into the story too much and make myself bigger than the game, that’s when things are just going to go wrong. I’m part of an unbelievable Irish team that’s playing good footy…it’s going to be interesting going up against some of my old pals but yeah, it’s just another game. I’m going to treat it that way as well.”

Hansen has scored three tries from eight outings since his first cap earlier this year in Ireland’s 29-7 win over Wales in February. Grasping his chance on debut, he won man of the match. Along with Irish hooker Dan Sheehan he has been nominated for the 2022 World Rugby breakthrough player of the year award.

The pedigree has been there all along. Hansen played at underage level for Australia in the 2018 World Rugby Under-20 Championship and made his debut for the Brumbies the following season, a few years before Friend rang. His Cork-born mother allows him to be Irish qualified.

“I like to think I’m a pretty heads-up player,” he says. “Andy [Farrell] and Mike [Catt] and all coaches and players have given me such a license to play my game. They are big believers in that if you see something go for it you know.

“Just because you have a number on your back it doesn’t mean you are held down to that position. The way we play and the way everybody just connects with each other, it makes it so much easier to go out there and play footy.”

Wounded Aussies arriving in Dublin are dangerous animals. Having lost against Italy for the first time “that’s definitely going to have blown smoke up their ass,” he says. It’s something that “does not happen every day,” he says that he was an Australian not so long ago and he’s now playing for Ireland against Australia.

“But really it’s another Test match that we’re trying to win,” he says, expecting that given he knows most of the Australian squad, there will be some words exchanged.

“Ah, they can’t sledge for s**t! [Nic] Whitey will be chirpy like always,” he says beginning the taunting nicely below the belt. “But the rest of them aren’t very witty or smart!”

Barely 10 months an international player and already rounding his game.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times