Mack Hansen Interview: 'I have been very proud of them - It shows how much rugby can mean to people'

Mack Hansen has shone for Ireland over the last two years and the upcoming World Cup is firmly in his sights

With attention beginning to shift towards World Cup warm-up games and the showpiece event in France later this year, when speaking to Ireland international Mack Hansen, our chat could have focused solely on what is on the horizon.

And while we did speak about Ireland's chances at the World Cup and how their preparations have gone so far, talk turned to what has been a hugely emotional few days for Irish rugby as a whole.

The U20s side has been rocked by two separate tragedies. On Monday, it was confirmed the father of scrum-half Jack Oliver - Greig - had passed away after a freak paragliding accident in Cape Town while the team had also learnt that two of their friends, Andrew O'Donnell and Max Wall, had both died on the Greek island of Los over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Ireland U20s took to the field in the U20s World Championships and displayed tremendous togetherness and determination to defeat Fiji and book their place in the semi-finals.

For senior international Hansen, he was full of pride for the U20s: "I have been very proud of them. It shows a lot of guts [the way Ireland performed v Fiji] but it also shows how much rugby can mean to people.

"Now, it is a good way to still be making his [Jack's] Dad proud and everyone proud and in a strange way, what has happened will give the team a boost to go on and win this tournament. It is an awful, awful tragedy and it is very sad times but I am so proud of how the team have all got around each other. Prayers are with everyone going through a tough time."

While rugby does pale into insignificance following the events of the last few days, Ireland are in the last four of the tournament and that will be seen as a positive for those involved in the U20s and senior set-ups.

Both the U20s and Andy Farrell's side were Six Nations Grand Slam winners earlier this year and with a semi-final against South Africa to come on Sunday, Hansen feels the progress of the U20s can only be a good thing for the future.

"There are some unbelievable players in that team," Hansen tells TRU. "They are going to have great careers and that is all you want to see. You want to see everybody doing well below us and hopefully put pressure on us in the future and create good depth!

"It is lovely to see them doing well and as I said, hopefully it can be a bit of a feel-good story at the end and they can lift the trophy."

If the U20s are to become Six Nations and world champions, all eyes - if they weren't already - would be on Hansen and his teammates to see if they could follow suit in France.

Their opening World Cup pool game is on September 9th against Romania but there is work to do before then as Ireland face Italy, England and Samoa in warm-up matches next month.

"It [coming into camp at the IRFU's High-Performance Centre] has been really good," Hansen says. "I think everyone was fresh enough coming in, had a good break, got away and got the mind flowing again.

"There has been a great buzz around the squad. It is exciting times. It is not every day you get to put your name forward for a World Cup and that is what everyone is doing. Everyone is just putting their heads down and getting into work and enjoying it when it is time to."

No one can begrudge Hansen for saying it is "exciting times" for Ireland. The achievements of the last 12 months - their series win in New Zealand, an unbeaten Autumn and the Six Nations Grand Slam - have only added to the momentum and growth of Farrell's side.

In the past, there has been an expectation around Ireland going into certain World Cup's but the side have never managed to reach the semi-final stage of the competition.

However, Hansen says the mentality of the current squad - who sit at the top of the world rankings - is to plan accordingly, not look too far ahead and block out any thoughts of what has gone before them.

"If anything it is a good way to look at it," he says. "It is not boring in the slightest. It gives you a new opportunity each week to try new things and focus on a different task and then you're able to put it to the side and do it all again. The way it has been set up when we have to focus on what is in front of us has been great for us.

"Look at our World Cup pool [world champions South Africa, Scotland, Tonga and Romaina]. The last thing we can do is complain about it.

"If you want to be lifting the trophy at the end, you are going to have to beat teams like South Africa, Scotland who no doubt are playing unbelievable footy and they are going to be tough games but you have got to do what you've got to do. It might be either France or New Zealand afterwards if we make it through!

"We have the chance to make our own mark. We are a new team, new squad, new coaches and stuff like that. We are all excited for it. We are not dreading it in the slightest. It is all about being able to be the first to not only push through [past the quarter-finals] but go on to try and win this thing."

Head coach Farrell will trim his current 42-man squad down to 33 in August and Hansen is likely to be in possession of a plane ticket to France given the impact he has had since moving from Australia to Ireland in 2021.

There is no doubt he has been one of the stars in a well-oiled and quality Ireland team. In 2022, he was nominated for the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year and he has played a huge role in the national side's progression to number one in the world.

"I've just been incredibly lucky, to be honest mate," says Hansen speaking to TRU following the launch of Canterbury's brand new rugby boot, the Speed Infinite Elite.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more than I have had in the last couple of years. It's just been a bit of a bonus for me. I came over just backing myself to play footy and I am just enjoying it.

"I am enjoying the whole ride and that is all I can really do. I know it is not going to last forever but while I'm in it at the moment, it has just been great. It has been unbelievable. I am still pinching myself most days. I am very lucky."


Ireland Fixtures