The making of Mack Hansen: From a schoolboy sensation in Oz to Ireland star, it’s been quite the journey for the livewire wing set to take Rugby World Cup by storm
- Mack Hansen was nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year
- The 25-year-old is now a livewire wing, but out-half is where he honed his craft
The Irony about Mack Hansen’s meteoric rise is that he once felt he was destined for a career of failure.
His formative years back in his native Australia were defined by disappointment on the big days.
Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Hansen was a schoolboy star for Daramalan College, a Catholic secondary school located in the suburb of Dickson in his native Canberra. Controversial Aussie tennis player Nick Kyrgios is another former alumnus.
Hansen was the sports personality who put the school on the map, however. But silverware proved elusive.
‘When Mack Hansen was in year 12, we lost the Grand Final after the siren. That was a tough one to swallow,’ Seán Connochie, Hansen’s former coach at Daramalan, recalls.
Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Hansen in full flight during his school days in Canberra
‘To be honest, that’s what Mack thought he was destined for. He lost a few Grand Finals in his time but he thought he was destined to go through his career without winning anything. So, that’s obviously changed!’
Grand Slams, All Blacks scalps and a World Cup campaign have followed. His rise through the ranks did not surprise his mentors back in Australia, mind you.
From the moment a young Hansen pitched up to U15s training after school, Connochie knew he had a special talent at his disposal.
‘I remember a mate came down to watch a game and I just said, “watch this kid and what he does” and you could tell he was going to make it.
‘There wasn’t a lot to him at that age but he had that (Stephen) Larkham-esque kind of run across the turf where it doesn’t look like he’s going too quick but he beats one or two defenders every single time.
‘His decision making when to run or pass was excellent.’
This is where Hansen’s origin story begins, on the backfields of his old school. The 25-year-old is now an instinctive and livewire wing, but out-half is where he honed his craft. For Connochie, the reasoning was simple.
‘He was a 10, just because he needed to have the ball in his hands as much as possible.’
Back then, Hansen had the same innate feel for the game. You think back to that brilliant try he scored against Les Bleus at Stade de France last year, snaffling Joey Carbery’s restart like an NFL wide receiver at full tilt en route to a scintillating score. Second Test, first try.
Hansen has made a habit of making the impossible look easy. It was the same story back at Daramalan where he racked up quite the highlights reel.
Hansen is now an instinctive and livewire wing, but out-half is where he honed his craft
‘He always seemed to pop up in the right place at the right time,’ says Connochie.
‘Either the ball found him or he found himself in the way of the ball a lot, which I think the really great players do. They find a way to get themselves involved.
‘That’s one of Mack’s strengths as a wing. He doesn’t stay on the wing, he goes looking for the ball in and around that breakdown, always looks for that tired forward to get a one-on-one with.’
These days, he seems to have the world at his feet. On the field, he is Connacht and Ireland’s secret weapon. A recent nominee for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the year, Hansen is contracted to play his rugby in Galway until 2025 and, no doubt, the IRFU will have a fight on their hands to fend off suitors from big-spending French clubs, and further afield.
A hugely popular figure off the field as well, sponsors are lining up to hitch their wagon to an affable Aussie with deep Irish roots. Hansen is box office at the moment.
A madcap character away from the game, this scrum-capped sensation gets serious when it comes to rugby matters, though.
‘He was a very funny kid. The boys loved him,’ Connochie states.
‘He probably focused a lot more on rugby than he did his school work. He definitely prioritised that.
‘A great kid to coach. I’d explain things and he’d pick it up like that (clicks fingers). He’d know exactly what they wanted.
‘A few of the other boys might take a little bit more time to understand what kind of things that they wanted them to do. Mack would pick it up straight away, just go out and deliver.’
He hasn’t been forgotten at his old alma either. The Mack Hansen medal is now awarded to the best back in Daramalan every season.
A nice acknowledgement for what he has achieved. His performances didn’t go unnoticed at the time either. Hansen was drafted into the ACT Brumbies academy straight out of school – the iconic Super Rugby club which produced icons such as Larkham, George Gregan, George Smith and Matt Giteau.
Hansen also caught the attention of Dan Atkins, who was head coach of the Gungahlin Eagles at the time.
‘Mack was a student at Daramalan College and my brother Troy – who was the Gungahlin Eagles U20s Coach – had his son playing in the same team as Mack,’ he remembers.
‘So I used to go along and watch my nephew Tayn play with Mack. They had a great team where a handful of them went on to the Brumbies academy system.
‘That Daramalan team also went on to a Grand final but unfortunately were not successful. That was where Mack caught my eye with his speed, elusiveness, silky skills and great kicking game.’
The Eagles are one of the top senior club sides in Canberra. Recently, they landed the hallowed John I Dent Cup. Tom Ross, one of Hansen’s good mates, was packing down the scrum at tighthead.
For a time, they had a daring and brilliant out-half at their disposal.
‘Mack first arrived as an U20s player but we had been monitoring Mack for several years,’ says Atkins.
‘What impressed us about him was his versatility and ability to play solidly in the out-half and full-back positions. He has an excellent read on the game and split second ability in decision-making or “playing what’s in front”.’
Atkins fondly remembers Hansen’s senior debut for the club as a lanky 19-year-old in 2017. Jordan Macey, the club’s regular No10, had pulled up with a calf injury just minutes before a crunch league match against West at Jamison Oval.
The 25-year-old was recently nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year
Hansen got the call. And the rest is history. The Australian media was soon abuzz with excitement about the second coming of Larkham, the brilliant Wallabies out-half who guided his country to World Cup glory in 1999 during a stellar 102-cap career. This Canberra-born youngster shared a lot of the same traits: the trademark languid running style, an ability to ghost past defenders and the customary headgear.
‘I had the privilege of playing all my junior representative footy for ACT with Larkham and I watched him grow into an amazing footballer,’ says Atkins.
‘Mack Hansen in my opinion was strikingly similar to Steve in the way he could just take hold of the ball and instantly have the opposition guessing what he was going to do – either run, step or pass. And all with this silky speed.
‘Mack is definitely one that Australian Rugby and the Brumbies underestimated and let get away. I felt he may go on and represent the Brumbies at five-eighth (out-half).
‘Instead he ended up on the wing for the Brumbies and did a fantastic job, scoring some amazing tries down on the edge.
‘One could argue that experiment with him on the wing has got him to where he is today, but I feel full-back is his best position and I believe Mack will be the best full-back in the world by 2025. His vision and read of the game is exceptional.’
National honours would soon follow. Hansen was drafted into the Wallabies U20 squad ahead of the Junior World Cup in 2018 where he featured alongside Jordan Petaia and Tate McDermott, who are both part of Eddie Jones’ squad in France at the moment.
Hansen had some big moments in the Brumbies jersey as well, nailing a 40-metre penalty (did we mention he’s a handy goal-kicker as well?) to seal a last-gasp win against the Queensland Reds in August 2020.
‘I kind of knew that he wasn’t going to miss that. Just from how much I’ve seen him play,’ says Connochie, his former high school coach.
‘When the big moments needed him, he would always step up. I was always pretty confident he would kick that one.
‘Unfortunately, he just didn’t get the game time he probably deserved down here.’
The one that got away, indeed. On a fateful day in 2021, an Irish number flashed up on Hansen’s phone. It was Andy Friend making an inquiry from Galway. Within two weeks, he was packing his bags and heading to Ireland.
You’ve probably read all the tales about how Hansen wound up at Connacht.
One story grew legs very quickly. The RUC bar was one of Hansen’s favourite haunts in Canberra. Friend’s son, Jackson, used to pull pints there and the pair were great mates.
Apparently, Jackson told his dad that a handy winger – with Irish heritage – was a local and maybe the Connacht head coach should take a look at him. Next thing Hansen was lighting up the Sportsground.
In reality, Connacht had been keeping tabs on him for quite some time. Friend, a Canberra native and former head coach of the Brumbies, had an extensive network of contacts in the area. It wasn’t just a punt on Hansen. They had done their homework. Leicester Tigers were interested in securing his services around the same time as well.
Hansen had the face of Ireland coach Andy Farrell tattooed on his leg after losing a bet with teammate Johnny Sexton
The 25-year-old said if he ever felt out with Farrell (right) he would give the tattoo glasses
The lure of playing international rugby was a powerful bargaining tool for Connacht though. Hansen’s mother Diana, maiden name O’Shea, hails from from Castlemartyr in county Cork. It’s a hurling stronghold. Random fact: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West spent their honeymoon in the town’s five-star hotel when they tied the knot back in 2014.
Hailed as a ‘real coup’ when Connacht secured his services, Hansen flew in under the radar when he first pitched up at the Sportsground.
He moved in with four of his Connacht teammates in a big house in Barna. He now has a tattoo of Oisín Dowling – one of his former housemates – on his leg next to another one of Slurms MacKenzie, a ‘party worm’ from the cartoon TV series ‘Futurama’. A portrait of Andy Farrell and the name ‘Gerry Dooley’ (long story) are also inked onto his frame.
The cult of Hansen has many followers these days. He may have had a low-key start to life out west, but things began to change after a game for the Connacht Eagles – the province’s A side – against Ulster in a pre-season hit-out at the IRFU high-performance centre in Abbotstown.
‘Word came back to the camp that Mack had scored a hat-trick,’ says Connacht teammate Tom Farrell, looking back on Hansen’s early weeks at the club.
‘Then the boys started to take notice that his new fella must have something about him.
‘Then round one came along for the season and he started on the wing against Cardiff from what I can remember. We actually lost that game and Mack didn’t play particularly poorly or well, it was just one of those kind of games.
‘Then, the following week we played the Bulls and he scored that wonder try and then I think some people started to take note of what a unique try it was.’
Ah yes, that try against the Bulls. It was one of those typical misty and windy nights at Connacht’s home ground. Hansen soon had the Clan Terrace in raptures when he fielded a loose kick and set off on a 60-metre dash to the try-line, leaving a flurry of would-be South African tacklers trailing in his wake.
He has proved a smash hit at the Sportsground. Soon, Andy Farrell came calling for his services.
He fit into the system straight away. Hansen got it from day one. He absorbed everything like a sponge. A natural. In many ways, he was the archetypal Farrell player – comfortable in his own skin and not afraid to take risks, but a hard worker as well.
‘You can see every time he comes back from the national camp that he comes back a smarter player and he always chirps in with little nuggets of information and bits of advice and opinion that he thinks as a team where we can get better,’ Tom Farrell explains.
‘He has that free rein but he has that really intelligent side to this game as well.’
Behind all his eccentricities, wacky behaviour, tattoos and mad hairstyles, there is a serious competitor though.
Hansen was part of Ireland side that claimed a series win over New Zealand for the first time
‘He’s kind of grown over the last year to be a real leader of the team,’ says Farrell on his Connacht teammate.
‘Not in the sense that’s he shouting from rooftops or anything but when things need to be addressed amongst the backs, he wouldn’t be afraid to stand up and voice his opinion on certain areas of our game.
‘Even times when the chips are down in a game or we’re under the pump a bit, he’d have no bother rallying the troops and pulling guys in.’
Now he looks set to take the World Cup by storm. A long and successful trophy-laden career beckons. A young Hansen wouldn’t have believed it.
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