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'I was probably the worst electrician in Canberra... I said I would give footy a go'

Irish-qualified back Mack Hansen has made a strong start to life with Connacht.

Hansen has impressed so far with Connacht.
Hansen has impressed so far with Connacht.

THE RUGBY WORLD is a very small place at times, as Connacht wing Mack Hansen can tell you.

23-year-old Hansen had never spoken to his current head coach and fellow Canberra man Andy Friend until a call came through from the Connacht boss earlier this year asking if he was interested in moving from his native Australia over to Ireland.

Hansen had become friendly with Friend’s son, Jackson, who worked in Hansen’s local bar in Canberra, a place called The RUC, which is owned by one of the Connacht head coach’s best friends.

Friend’s intel told him that Hansen is Irish-qualified, his mother having been born here, and with Connacht looking out for an addition to their backline options, it all fell into place. 

The “cool opportunity” in Connacht was too good for former Australia U20 international Hansen to turn down and so he arrived from the Brumbies during the summer.

Hansen has made an impressive start to the season for Connacht, scoring a classy try against the Bulls in one of his four appearances on the left wing ahead of this Saturday’s big clash with Ulster at the Aviva Stadium.

“I’ve always known what I can do, so it’s good to get the opportunity to show everyone else,” says Hansen of being backed by Friend and co. early on in this campaign.

Off the pitch, he has moved into a place in Barna with “a great crew” of team-mates in Peter Sullivan, Oisín Dowling, Jordan Duggan, and Jack Aungier, although Hansen was struggling to assemble a coat rack just before we spoke for this interview.

DIY is not a strong point but exciting footwork is. Hansen’s skillset has brought him across the world to Connacht but that Irish connection does, of course, help.

His mother, Diana – maiden name O’Shea – is from Castlemartyr in County Cork and was around seven years old when she moved to Australia with her family. There are still O’Sheas living in Cork city and Hansen met one of his cousins for the first time recently.

“It’s great having family here to lean on,” he says.

mack-hansen Hansen joined from the Brumbies during the summer. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

When his mother and her family moved Down Under, they settled in the beautiful Manly suburb of Sydney, which Hansen declares as “one of the best places in the world.”

His father is a “full-blown Aussie” who played rugby union for the Manly Marlins, while Hansen’s grandfather, Kevin Hansen, was good enough at rugby league to be capped by Australia.

The family had moved to Canberra by the time Mack was born and he grew up playing lots of sports including soccer and rugby league but got serious about union in Daramalan College. He emerged from school as a prospect for the Brumbies but Hansen explains that the academy system works differently in Australia. 

“The academy set-up is way better over here. Back home, it’s not really a full-time thing. You might get asked to do a pre-season [with the senior team] but then you’re back to academy and it’s more afternoons or evenings for training after work.

“It’s pretty tough for the boys that work tough jobs having to back that up with a few hours of training. That’s what you’ve got to go through.”

Hansen was initially learning a trade after school, taking up work as an apprentice electrician.

“I was probably the worst electrician in Canberra,” he says with a laugh. “I was crap, not good at all. There was really hard maths, I didn’t expect that. You’ve got to be pretty switched on, which I was not at the time.”

The balancing act meant 5am starts for work and then on into training in the evening, often getting home at 9.30pm.

The long days were putting a serious strain on Hansen’s rugby and he decided to go all-in on chasing a professional career, handing in his notice as an electrician.

“I told my bosses that I was going to give footy a go and see how it panned out. They were big rugby heads so they were all fine with it. I’m lucky it all paid off for me.”

Hansen says he did still do some work in childcare around his training to keep some extra cash coming in.

“I was a lot better at that! You just got paid to play games, can’t complain at all.”

super-rugby-brumbies-waratahs Hansen scoring a try for the Brumbies in Super Rugby AU. Source: AAP/PA Images

Having impressed with the Canberra Vikings in the now-defunct National Rugby Championship and also having shone for the Australia U20s at the 2018 World Rugby Championship, Hansen graduated into the Brumbies’ senior set-up and made his Super Rugby debut in 2019.

In 2020, he famously slotted a last-gasp long-range penalty shot to help the Brumbies beat the Reds in Super Rugby AU, catching everyone’s eye with his composure.

“You always want those opportunities,” says Hansen of a moment that is blurry in his memory. “You just want to be in those types of situations.”

This year, Hansen made seven starts for the Brumbies in Super Rugby and scored three tries as his performances made Connacht take notice.

It was a wrench for him leaving the Brumbies and Hansen credits the likes of Henry Speight, Andy Muirhead, Tom Wright, and Tom Banks as having guided his development in the back three, while coaches Dan McKellar and Laurie Fisher, formerly of Munster, were good to him.

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One-time Ulster out-half Christian Leali’ifano was “a big mentor” during their team as team-mates, while Hansen sought feedback on Connacht from another Brumbies man, Kyle Godwin, who loved his time with the province. 

It was a big move but Hansen is very happy where he has landed. While he has featured on the left wing for Connacht so far, he’s clear about his favourite position.

“Fullback is definitely my preferred position, I think that’s where I’d want to be long-term,” says Hansen. “But saying that, I’m enjoying it on the wing and I’ve got a pretty good license to roam around. It feels like I’m doing more than just hanging out there and waiting for the ball to come my way.”

The Ireland qualification was obviously a factor in his move but he’s insistent that any possibility of Test rugby will only come about if he focuses on doing the best job he can in Connacht.

“If I can keep playing well, all the other stuff will take care of itself. Playing for Ireland is definitely something I’d be interested in, it would be a really cool experience and I could see myself being here for a while if it came to that option.”

mack-hansen-and-gavin-coombes Hansen in action against Munster last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

These are early days but already Connacht’s supporters have taken to Hansen.

Ahead of Saturday’s clash with Ulster in the Aviva Stadium, the affable Australian is already starting to feel at home.

“Everyone on the team has got a chip on their shoulder and it’s a pretty similar place to the Brumbies,” says Hansen of Connacht.

“Munster and Leinster are the big teams that are always supposed to be the best and people maybe view Connacht as rejects or stuff like that, but that helps to drive everyone’s attitude at training and just wanting to win.

“We don’t see ourselves like that at all, so having that little chip on your shoulder helps to have that drive throughout the season. The boys are excited to be here, pumped to be here, and honoured to be here.”

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey discuss Ireland’s squad, women’s rugby reviews, and the Tadhg Beirne incident on The42 Rugby Weekly:


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